How do I turn vi colors off? I was using vim-tiny on on Ubuntu 14.04. Installed vim-nox. Version is version 7.4.52. Once I installed that, I got all these syntax colors by default. I have my Terminal set to a black background with bright green text. Now when I use vi with the colors, some of the text is unreadable against the dark background. I would rather just turn the colors off. How do I do this?

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    Side note: you might want to explore the vim color themes as well. Perhaps you'd find one that looks nice with your settings. Type :color and tab through the possible arguments. I use a black background for my terminal (with gray text) and I personally like the desert theme.
    – Shahbaz
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 5:26
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    Syntax highlighting is off by default. If you don't want it, why do you even enable it?
    – romainl
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 8:50
  • @Shabaz Thank you for your helpful remarks. I will explore the themes, and maybe find something appropriate. :-)
    – gracious1
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 9:18
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    @romainl On Debian, the detault /etc/vim/vimrc has syntax on. Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 13:48
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    Oh, no, I was wrong. I'm using pi-rho's PPA, and pi-rho does have it commented out where Ubuntu's /etc/vim/vimrc doesn't. Looks like @Carpetsmoker was right.
    – muru
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 14:29

3 Answers 3


You can use:

:set t_Co=0

This will tell Vim that you're not using a colour terminal. The difference with using :syntax off is that this will still enable some syntax highlighting features with bold, underlined, and "reverse video".

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    Hmm... I think I still want to see bold. I think I was able to see bold and some other formats with vim-tiny, so I wouldn't want to completely lose functionality. Thanks for your helpful answer.
    – gracious1
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 9:22
  • @gracious1 This will enable bold/underline, :syntax off *won't. ;-) Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 13:46
  • Yes, that's what I meant!
    – gracious1
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 14:25

Just discovered this after viewing /etc/vim/vimrc for the first time. Uncommenting the line "set background=dark" in vimrc solves my readability problem also. It changes the syntax colors so that they are distinguishable against my black background! This is actually better than what I had hoped for in the original question!

(Presumably :set background=dark would have worked, too? Or something like that?)

  • 1
    Yes, :set background=dark would have worked. You could add that to ~/.vimrc or ~/.vim/vimrc as well, instead of modifying files in /etc.
    – muru
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 14:44

You can disable syntax highlighting by doing:

:syntax off

To turn it back on:

:syntax enable

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