In my shell, I can use curly braces to isolate the names of environment variables.

For example, if I have two env vars, ONE and TWO, equal to 1 and 2, then

> echo "$ONE_$TWO"
ONE_: Undefined variable
> echo "${ONE}_${TWO}"

I like to try something similar with Vim's expand() function, but the curly braces don't help.

:echo expand('$ONE_$TWO')
:echo expand('${ONE}_${TWO}')
  • You may not need expand if the variables are already known to vim (:help expr-env-expand): :echo $ONE .. '_' .. $TWO
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Jan 27, 2023 at 15:58
  • Yes, this is true. If I were to construct a string on my own using Vimscript, I would do it like this with the dot (or VIm9 double dot). However, my plugin is being used my my colleagues who are not as experienced with Vimscript. I included an option for a user to define a non-default path in their .vimrc. If a user defines a string containing env vars, then I'd like give that string to the expand() function in my plugin. My end-users would have an easier time putting curly braces around the env var (just like in a shell script) than to use Vimscript. Jan 27, 2023 at 19:56
  • There is also a string interpolation syntax I’ve forgotten (maybe a $ prefix?)
    – D. Ben Knoble
    Jan 27, 2023 at 22:36

1 Answer 1


If you put any character that is invalid in an environment variable name after the environment variable name, it will force the expansion. Example:

ec expand('$SHELL-$HOME')



Then you can replace all instances of the invalid character with an underscore:

ec expand('$SHELL-$HOME')->substitute('-', '_', 'g')



I recommend you define your own function in your vimrc for this

function! Exp(str)
    return expand(a:str)->substitute('-', '_', 'g')

Then run ec Exp('$SHELL-$HOME') as needed.

Or you could even do:

function! Exp(str)
    return expand(a:str->substitute('_', '-', 'g'))->substitute('-', '_', 'g')

and run it as ec Exp('$SHELL_$HOME'). The only concern is if the unexpanded string contains hyphens or if the values of the environment variables contain hyphens.

Of course, it doesn't have to be a hyphen, it could be anything other than an alphanumeric or underscore. You might come up with some weird character that will definitely never cause undesired results. You could even use a single closing curly brace and use expand('$SHELL}_$HOME')->substitute('}', '', 'g'), as long as the result will definitely not contain any } characters.

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