Changing Words


We’ve written before about how Vim commands can be combined with motions or text objects to achieve powerful editing combinations. In a nutshell:

<number of times> + <command> + <text object or motion>

With that in mind, there are 3 different ways you can change words in Vim:

  • cw – Change from cursor to the end of the word.
  • caw – Change around the word, including trailing whitespace.
  • ciw – Change inside the word, excluding trailing whitespace.

Let’s explain how each of these differ. Watch the brief screencast:

As you can see, cw removes everything including the character under the cursor up to the next non-alphanumeric character. Then it drops you into insert mode so you can begin typing a replacement. This works by combining w, a motion, with the command c for change.

Next is ciw which removes the current word up to the whitespace on either side and again, leaves you in insert mode. This works differently. Instead of combining a command with a motion, we’re combining with a text object: iw for inside word.

Lastly is caw. This differs slightly from ciw in that it removes all the trailing whitespace as well. Again, here we are combining the c command with a text object, aw for a word (or “around word”).

When would you use these? Well, cw I use quite frequently for just about any text editing or programming, especially when combined with w to move between words. And ciw is extremely useful for building up commands that can be repeated with with the . character.

In a recent project I needed to change several instances of various class names all to a single class name. Watch the demo below. First, I search for pattern contained in all the classes I’m trying to swap using /. My cursor lands in the middle of the word — a perfect time to use ciw to change it. Now I press n to go to the next match and skip it. Then press n to go to the next match and repeat my ciw action with a dot.

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Written by

Colin Bartlett

105 Posts

Vim enthusiast and software developer for more than 20 years.
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