I have a file that contains words that I want to save, along with other junk that I do not need. I just want to delete everything except the words that contain a certain pattern. Take email addresses for example:

foo foo foo foo foo [email protected] foo foo [email protected]

Run some magic and save everything from @ to the previous and next space.

[email protected] [email protected]

This would be useful in so many applications (especially email addresses).

2 Answers 2


Easy way - grep

The easiest technique is to use :%!grep -o {pat}. The -o/--only-matching make grep only display the matches.

:%!grep -o 'foo\w*bar'

Note: that grep's regex's are a different variant from PCRE and Vim's.

Pure Vim method with plugin - still easy

For a pure native vim solution I suggest you look at ExtractMatches or Yankitute plugins.

(Ab)Using :s for fun and profit

You want to roll your "extract matches" command with :s with a sub-replace-expression (\=) and a list.

let lst = []
:%s/pattern/\=add(lst, submatch(0))[-1]/g

The basic idea is to add each match to the list, lst, using a sub-replace-expression for the :s command. We can use some in-place array trickery to make sure the text doesn't change by always returning the last element of the array (what we just added).

This :s trick is often done in the form:

:let lst = []
:%s//\=add(lst, submatch(0))[-1]/g
:call setreg('"', join(lst, "\n"), 'l')

This will capture the current matches (uses last used pattern) into the default register. If you have Vim 7.4 then the :s can be simplified further: :%s//\=add(lst, submatch(0))/gn

More information

:h :range!
:h :s
:h sub-replace-expression
:h List
:h add()
:h submatch()
:h :d
:h :pu
:h @=
  • Wow! Who would have thought that that would be so difficult in vim natively? I really like the grep solution though. Thanks! Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 19:19
  • Most of the hard work is done in the :s command. It is actually a testament to the versatility of the :s command. However it does pale in comparison to how easy this job is with grep. Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 19:24
  • This tip can do more than grep (which is line based) - delete all non-matching paragraphs in vim. E.g collect all multi-line functions in script: :%s/^function_.{-}endfunc/\\=add(lst,submatch(0))[-1]/gn, NOTE the last /n option - don't modify buffer during substition. Later paste lst as above.
    – mosh
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 17:03

An applied answer (pure vim stuff) that keeps email addresses only:

  1. place \r (carriage return, CR) before and after each email address (i.e. .break lines around each email found, so that each address will go on a separate line);
  2. remove all lines which are not email addresses (last search pattern is used).

Less specific usage: change \S\+@\S\+ with the desired pattern.

  • 1
    This is a better pure Vim way. However if you want to save the matches register without destroying the buffer, then the :s with sub-replace-expression is the way to go. Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 21:49
  • No doubt! It just seemed like a nice challenge.
    – VanLaser
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 21:56

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