Doing a search with / can be useful, however, it becomes harder to find things if the term you are searching for is a part of other words. I have a large text document with notes i've made about the BASH command language, and if i hit /cat, in reference to the cat command, it just takes me to some word with "cat" as a part of it, like locate.

During a search, is there a way to use the white space surrounding, preceding, or fallowing a term in order to find a word or sequence or characters? I've tried using double and single quotes with no luck. EOF ($) works, but that won't help find words in the middle of a document.

  • 3
    Try /\<cat\> and see :help \< and also :help *
    – mattb
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 20:19
  • Note that in a pattern $ is end-of-line (EOL), not end-of-file (EOF). As a range, however, $ is EOF.
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 18:09

1 Answer 1


Like mattb proposes you could search for cat as a word:


The \< and \> token match the word boundaries.

Remark: If you have cat selected and hit * this what Vim will do.

But you can also do the same using the following pattern.


To limit the number of backslash to type, you can switch on the magic mode using the \v token.

In magic mode the special tokens like <, >, +, (, ), ... don't need to be escaped.

More information about the magic mode using: help /magic

  • those both work, yet you could explain what's happening "under the hood" in order to make the answer better.
    – user8919
    Commented Jul 9, 2022 at 17:39
  • @thinksinbinary see :help \<
    – mattb
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 6:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.