So I'm trying to have a function type out a space which goes as follows:

function! UnderlineHeading(level)
  if a:level == 1
    normal! yypVr=
  elseif a:level == 2
    normal! yypVr-
    normal! I###<Space><Esc>

nnoremap <leader>u3 :call UnderlineHeading(3)<cr>

However, when I press <leader>u3 in normal mode, the function enters <Space> instead of an actual space. I have tried making the word space all lowercase (in vain). What causes this to happen and how should I go about fixing it?

If can be of any importance for this question, I use neovim.


2 Answers 2


It turns out that commands such as :normal! don't really recognize and expand key sequences such as <Space> or even <Esc>.

Simply adding an actual space character would do the job here (normal! I### ), but this means you would have a trailing space in your command-line.

(Note that you don't really need an actual <Esc> character to leave insert mode from a :normal! command, since it will always end Insert mode implicitly at the end of its execution.)

The alternative to that is to use :execute, which allows you to assemble the :normal! command from a string, in which case you can use:

execute 'normal! I### '

That way the space is very clear.

Using :execute also allows you to use a double quoted string, where you can use key codes such as <Esc> as long as you use a backslash escaped < to initiate it. An example:

execute "normal! I### \<Esc>"

(Or, equivalently, execute "normal! I### \e", since \e is also a valid escape for the <Esc> character. But then, again, you don't really need an explicit <Esc> in a :normal! command.)

  • 1
    Nice timing! :P
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Dec 9, 2020 at 20:53
  • 1
    @D.BenKnoble When that happens, I'm always glad when our answers are in agreement. :-) Also I hadn't caught that ### was part of what was being inserted, so glad to see that in your answer and correct mine.
    – filbranden
    Dec 9, 2020 at 20:55

:normal doesn't (?) interpret <> sequences. You could use

normal! I### 

But the hidden space turns me off; I prefer

execute 'normal! I### '

in this case because it makes the spacing apparent.

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