I am trying to highlight a word in the current buffer dynamically like so:

function! Highlight()

  let @/ = 'word'
  set hlsearch


When I run this function, the register / contains word as desired but the word word is not highlighted.

This surprises me because if I remove the set hlsearch part and after the function runs, I call it manually, it highlight correctly the word.

What can I do to have the correct behavior?

  • 5
    :h function-search-undo Jun 12, 2016 at 19:09
  • 2
    @nobe4 you can make the function return the actual commands. That should work. Jun 13, 2016 at 12:07
  • 1
    @SibiCoder setting @/ will highlight matches.
    – Antony
    Jun 14, 2016 at 10:12
  • 1
    @nobe4 Ah, I tried it with vim -u NONE. It works like that.
    – Antony
    Jun 14, 2016 at 10:23
  • 1
    Yeah, works as intended if I start with vim -u NONE. Doesn't if I start with vim -Nu NONE, even if I then :set compatible. Bug? Vim 7.4.778 btw.
    – Antony
    Jun 14, 2016 at 10:30

2 Answers 2


A workaround:

function! Highlight()

  call matchadd('error', 'word')


The matchadd function takes an highlight group (here 'error') and a regex to match (here 'word'), it will create a new highlight a return it's ID.


If you want to change the highlight over time, you can store this ID, call matchdelete(ID) to clear the current highlight and call matchadd again to add a new highlight.

e.g. pressing <C-H> will highlight the word under the cursor:

let s:current_matching = -1

function! Highlight()

  if s:current_matching != -1
    call matchdelete(s:current_matching)
  let s:current_matching = matchadd('error', expand('<cword>'))


nnoremap <C-H> :call Highlight()<CR>

For reference, and maybe further research:

After a long discussion with antony we found out that this behavior is enable in compatible mode but not in nocompatible mode.

i.e. the code will highlight when called from

vim -u NONE

but not from

vim -Nu NONE

Moreover, we found that setting hls and nohls one after the other will make the highlight work for both compatible and nocompatible.

e.g. this code correctly highlight for both compatible and nocompatible:

function! Highlight()
  let @/ = 'word'
  set hlsearch

let @/=''
set hls
set nohls

" source %
" call Highlight()

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