I try to do a substitution from a vim script and to operate over a captured group like so:

let string = "{b1} {b2} ({b3})"
echo substitute(string, "{\([^}]*\)}", "a", "g")

It doesn't match anything and the result doesn't change.

If I remove the \( \):

echo substitute(string, "{[^}]*}", "a", "g")

Then the whole {b1} is replaced with a, when I only want to replace the content of it: {a}.

I have read that the pattern in the substitute command always work in magic mode. And that in the magic mode, the capture group is: \( \).

Do you know the trick to make this work?

Edit: Thanks to Christian Brabandt I was able to make it work (see his answer below). I had to change the \( \) to \zs \ze also.

1 Answer 1


In double-quote strings, the backslash has a special meaning. And will probably be skipped when parsing the quoted string. The details can be seen at :h expr-quote. You would have to double the slashes to make that work.

Therefore, it is usually easier to read and maintain using single quoted strings. See :h literal-string as there the backslash won't be skipped.

  • Do you know a usecase where the expr-quote is a better use than a literal-string ?
    – nobe4
    Sep 2, 2015 at 9:37
  • When you need keys like in :exe ":norm! afoobar\<esc>" or when you need special chars e.g. \xe4 Sep 2, 2015 at 12:09
  • I see, meanwhile I found google.github.io/styleguide/vimscriptguide.xml where this is explained also :)
    – nobe4
    Sep 2, 2015 at 12:11

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