Advanced filtering utilities in Vim


Substitution uses much the same options as Vim's built-in substitute command, which you can read about with the command :help:substitute. The command structure is either of the following:

:%Abolish -substitute -flags SEARCH_TERM REPLACEMENT

The substitution options include I, v, and w, just like searches. Additionally, substitution uses the g option to find and replace all instances of the search string (which is also the default behavior). The e option suppresses error messages, and n finds the number of instances but does not replace them.

The most useful flag is c. Ordinarily, vim-abolish replaces all instances without confirmation, but when the c flag is set, each replacement needs to be confirmed. Table 1 shows the c flag confirmation options. The last two might not be available, depending on how your copy of Vim was compiled.

Table 1

c Flag Confirmation Options


Make the change.


Do not make the change.


Change the current instance and exit.


Exit making no other changes.


Exit, changing the current instance and returning to the first instance.


Scroll up the file.


Scroll down the file.


Vim-abolish uses the unusual term "coercion" for changing the letter case of a selected word. Search for a word, and, with the cursor still in the word, enter one of the abbreviations in Table 2 to change the word to the desired case.

Table 2

Letter Cases for Coercion


CamelCase (the first letter of each syllable is capitalized)


Mixed case (the word combines uppercase and lowercase, in no special order)

crs or cr_

Snake case (syllables are separated by an underscore)


Lowercase Snake case


Dash case (syllables are separated by dashes; cannot be changed again)

If you regularly have multiple instances of words needing case changes, you might follow the advice in the README.markdown file, and install the command repeat.vim [3] to make your letter case editing easier.

Learning vim-abolish

There is no denying that vim-abolish is eccentric. Its name, as well as the names of some of its utilities, has no clear relation to its function. Nor does there seem to be a reason, other than user choice, for the support of two – three, actually – different command structures. Moreover, its four utilities have little more in common than the fact that they are all efficient ways of searching files.

Still, the eccentricity is not nearly as great as it first appears. Abbreviation is a more powerful version of Vim's substitution, and the vim-abolish search is an enhancement of Vim's version. You can also increase the consistency of vim-abolish by using Subvert rather than Abolish to structure your commands.

Undoubtedly, the biggest obstacle to using vim-abolish is writing advanced search patterns. Although the options are straightforward, thinking out the permutations of different word variations can be challenging. You can expect some trial and error, both to eliminate false positives and to ensure that every instance of a string is found.

Yet despite these obstacles, vim-abolish can save you time and customize Vim to your liking. These advantages make vim-abolish one of the essential plugins for many users, regardless of whether they use Vim for programming or as a general text editor.

The Author

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist and a freelance writer and editor specializing in free and open source software. In addition to his writing projects, he also teaches live and e-learning courses. In his spare time, Bruce writes about Northwest Coast art. You can read more of his work at

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