Suppose I want to make a syntax highlighting script to work with files with the following hypothetical format:

blah # blahA1B2 bla
asdf A11B453 # qwert
aaa A0B0 bbb @

That is, lines with arbitrary text, but somewhere in the line I have a string with the format A\d\+B\d\+ (A immediately followed by a number, immediately followed by B, and then another number).

Furthermore, suppose that I highlight the whole line based on another pattern (in the example I'll make it clear).

What I want is to highlight only the numbers within the pattern A[0-9]\+B[0-9]\+, without removing the current highlight from the A and B.

The following script almost solves my problem:

syn match Type '.*#.*'
syn match Macro '.*@.*'
syn match Number '[AB]\zs\d\+\ze'

What it does:

  • Highlight with green lines that have a # (this part is ok).
  • Highlight with purple lines that have a @ (this part also is ok).
  • Highlight the number following A or B (this need improvement).

The problem with my script is that it also highlights A2 and B3, but they should be together to be highlighted.

I've also worked a bit with the contains and containedin, but with no success.

  • Work harder at understanding containedin. Add a pattern for A11B453, then make the [AB]\zs\d\+\ze contained in it. Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 18:34
  • I did that also, this violates the condition of not removing the previous highlighting from A and B.
    – Kira
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 18:36
  • ... Which is why you make the pattern transparent. Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 19:32

1 Answer 1


Apparently transparent was the missing piece of the puzzle, as @Sato points out.

The final script would be something of this sort:

syn match Type '.*#.*'
syn match Macro '.*@.*'
syn match pattern 'A\d\+B\d\+' transparent contains=num
syn match num '[AB]\zs\d\+\ze' contained
hi def link num Number

Without the transparent, A and B would lack highlighting.

For some reason adding a containedin=pattern in num's line won't work, but I didn't bother finding out why.

  • Nope, this still highlights all A=number and B=number. You have to use contained, not just contains. And you can safely forget about containedin. Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 20:05
  • Right, I've added the contained part.
    – Kira
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 20:21
  • Yes: without contained the num pattern is also matched at top level. Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 20:23

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