I have the following

syn match specialNumber /1/         contained
syn match normalNumber /\d/         contained

syn match line /^\d$/               contains=specialNumber,normalNumber

hi def link specialNumber           Special 
hi def link normalNumber            Normal 

I expect this to highlight a line with 1 as Special, and a line with any other digit with Normal. But this is not the case. A line with 1 is always highlighted with Normal. What can I do to make the code match my expectation?

1 Answer 1


As usual, read help pages. In this particular case, it is documented under :h :syn-priority.

The order matters, and the last match has a preference, not the first one.

BTW. Here I would rather choose 1 and 2-9 patterns, so that the collision would never arise.

  • I already tried the "usual" and it does not work.
    – xvf99680
    Jul 16, 2023 at 9:48
  • This example is a simplification of the problem to understand how to solve it. My actual normalNumber is more complicated and involves many \d's
    – xvf99680
    Jul 16, 2023 at 9:49
  • @xvf99680 1) Yes, I guess you did and failed. And that's really a pity. You could, for example, open :h syntax.txt then type /priority etc.etc. Saying "it does not work" is a very poor excuse. 2) As I said, you need to take the declaration order into account. Sometimes, it's inevitable, but sometimes you can fiddle with your patterns to avoid that (at least, partially).
    – Matt
    Jul 16, 2023 at 10:33
  • 1
    I miss understood you comment. I thought you were talking about the order of groups in contains. You deserve an apology. Sorry and thanks.
    – xvf99680
    Jul 16, 2023 at 10:36
  • @xvf99680 The priority rules for the global scope and for a group scope are the same. contains and contained keywords only define which matches are tried and which aren't.
    – Matt
    Jul 16, 2023 at 11:27

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