This is mostly a curiosity-driven question.

I can't think of anything shorter than x\@=y, which tries to match x and y at the same position. A slightly longer, but probably more self-explaining pattern is \_.\@!, which reads more or less as "a thing that matches everything, should not match".

For those who wonder why I need a pattern matching nothing and nowhere, I need one to get a match ID for matchadd, so that I can then update that very match over and over, reusing always the same id. Basically, I call this

let g:id = matchadd('Search', 'x\@=y', 10, -1)

when loading a plugin, and later on everytime I need to updated the matches I've created I can do

call matchdelete(g:id)
call matchadd('Search', 'some pattern', 10, g:id)
  • I don't understand why you need to get a global matchid for something that does not match Jul 1, 2023 at 9:25
  • @ChristianBrabandt, call matchadd(_, _, _, id) errors if id is already taken, so I have to call matchdelete(id) first, but if I don't have one, it errors.
    – Enlico
    Jul 1, 2023 at 9:27
  • So why do you only call matchdelete() if you have an existing match-id? Jul 1, 2023 at 9:28
  • .... Because matchadd fails if I call it with an existing id.
    – Enlico
    Jul 1, 2023 at 9:29
  • .. so if you don't have an existing id, use -1 and you will get a new fresh id. Jul 1, 2023 at 9:31

1 Answer 1


You've gotten a better answer in the comments, but for curiosity's sake, note that unless you add atoms specifically to avoid this, patterns will generally only match in a single line.

So there are a large number of two character patterns that don't match anywhere:

  • x^ An x followed by the start of a line,
  • $. The end of a line followed by any character,
  • $^ The end of a line followed by the start of the line,
  • etc.
  • I didn't even try that, thinking ^ and $ would be literal if not used at the beginning and end of the pattern! Apparently, I was confusing with SED: sed 's/^c/X/' <<< 'ci^ao' gives Xi^ao, but sed 's/i^/X/' <<< 'ci^ao' gives cXao.
    – Enlico
    Jul 3, 2023 at 15:40

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