I use list and listchars to show my whitespace, but the code style I adhere to uses tabs. Seeing > or ^I for all of my tabs is nauseating.

How would I keep all of my existing list characters but with a blank tab character?

  • 3
    Note that setting a space as a tab means you won't be able to distinguish between spaces and tabs, or see tabs in other places (like inside a string, end of the line). It sort of defeats the purpose of set list ;-) Some other (smaller) character you may try: · (MIDDLE DOT), (OPEN BOX) or (SUBSCRIPT MINUS). (I personally use: set listchars=tab:!·). Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 8:28
  • @Carpetsmoker correct. This is why I have a linter. :) Exclamation point might not be so bad, I suppose I could play around with them. Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 8:28
  • 1
    As a worthy note, I've actually ended up using a tiny arrow for my tabs. Not as intrusive. Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 23:32

2 Answers 2


'listchars' takes two characters for tab so you can simply use two regular spaces:

set listchars=tab:\ \ ,trail:·,eol:¬,nbsp:_
  • 1
    Didn't know you could do \ , though it makes sense since you can search with them (/\ ). I was trying \s, ' ', etc. Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 7:33

Turns out non-breaking spaces work just fine.

As per this answer, the utf-8 sequence is "\xc2\xa0".

Since I'm on a mac, I simply did echo -en "\xc2\xa0" | pbcopy and then added them to my .vimrc:

set listchars=tab:[2p],...

where [2p] pasted the clipboard twice. The result ended up being

set listchars=tab:<nbsp><nbsp>,...

which correctly caused tabs to show up as simple whitespace.

  • 2
    That's a lot of trouble when you could do set listchars=tab:\ \ ,....
    – romainl
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 7:27
  • 1
    @romainl then make an answer :) Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 7:27

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