Word wrapping

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I’ve been writing a lot of text recently in Vim: Notes, blog posts, pretty much any prose I need to write — they all start in Vim first for me (including this blog post). But when writing and editing prose, adding hard line breaks is often unnatural. Instead, I’d prefer if Vim would soft wrap my text at the width of my window.

Vim can do that, and there’s a few options you can set together in order to create a better soft-wrapped text experience:

  • :set wrap – Wraps text instead of forcing a horizontal scroll. This is the Vim default, but just noting here that you do need to have this set, naturally.
  • :set linebreak – Wraps text at the end of a word. This is what prevents a word from being split in two.
  • :set nolist – You must turn off list which displays whitespace characters as text.

It’s important to note that the mappings you use such as j and k to go up and down and ^ (or 0) and $ to go the beginning and end of a line, all apply to actual lines, not soft-wrapped “display” lines. Vim does have a way to navigate across wrapped lines, however! Prepend g to any of those key presses:

  • gj – Go down one wrapped line
  • gk – Go up one wrapped line
  • g^ or g0 – Go to the beginning of the wrapped line
  • g$ – Go to the end of the wrapped line

But that’s sort of annoying. Rather than needing to prepend all of those key presses with g while in word-wrap mode, we could simply remap all of those. For example j could be mapped to gj while in this special prose-writing word-wrap mode. Let’s put this all together into a function inside our .vimrc that allows us to toggle this mode on and off:

let s:wrapenabled = 0
function! ToggleWrap()
  set wrap nolist
  if s:wrapenabled
    set nolinebreak
    unmap j
    unmap k
    unmap 0
    unmap ^
    unmap $
    let s:wrapenabled = 0
  else
    set linebreak
    nnoremap j gj
    nnoremap k gk
    nnoremap 0 g0
    nnoremap ^ g^
    nnoremap $ g$
    vnoremap j gj
    vnoremap k gk
    vnoremap 0 g0
    vnoremap ^ g^
    vnoremap $ g$
    let s:wrapenabled = 1
  endif
endfunction
map <leader>w :call ToggleWrap()<CR>

When I call <leader>w or \w, Vim will turn on wrapping, toggle wrapping at word boundaries, and turn off listchar display. It will also remap all my line navigation keys to display lines rather than actual hard lines.

If you’re interested in more tips like this that are useful for note-taking in Vim, you might want to pre-order our course Master Vim Note-Taking. We are hard at work on this course, it’s shaping up to be even better than our first course, Git Better with Vim.

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Written by

Colin Bartlett

81 Posts

Vim enthusiast and software developer for more than 20 years.
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4 thoughts on “Word wrapping”

  1. I gave not really useful only because I use vim purely for coding – not that I think the tip itself is bad 🙂

    1. Great to know, thanks! There’s a real mix of users subscribed: some only code, others don’t code at all. For me, this one is super useful because I’ve been trying to write more in Vim. But I totally understand not useful to everyone and your feedback is very helpful nonetheless. Thank you!

  2. I’ve had a similar problem when writing my thesis using vim and latex. After fiddling a while with the wrapping feature, I thought I was better off writing a single sentence per line, since latex interprets space-separated lines as part of the same paragraph, and more than two spaces are required to make a new paragraph. I found that i got the best experience with vim’s native tools, and I got a better integration with git as version control since it operates on a per-line basis.

  3. This is really handy – been updating my CV (asciidoc) and sorting out the word wrapping helps immensely. I too tried just manually having multiple lines per-paragraph, however this made reordering parts of prose tedious. The only thing I’d suggest is to add a setlocal spell / setlocal nospell as appropriate, as having the spellchecker enabled in prose mode is super handy. Thanks again!

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