I have some old scripts that I try to update. Some of the code condenses to:

 export X=`(echo "abc"; echo "def")`
 echo $X

which gives the expected output:

 abc def

Now the internet tells me backticks are out $() is what I need to use, but when I try:

export X=$((echo "abc"; echo "def"))

X is not set and I get the error:

bash: echo "abc"; echo "def": syntax error: invalid arithmetic operator (error token is ""abc"; echo "def"")

What am I doing wrong?


2 Answers 2


The $(( … )) syntax is an arithmetic expression.

What is missing is a space between the $( and the following (, to avoid the arithmetic expression syntax.

The section on command substitution in the shell command language specification actually warns for that:

If the command substitution consists of a single subshell, such as:

   $( (command) )

a conforming application shall separate the "`$(`" and '`(`' into two tokens
(that is, separate them with white space). This is required to avoid any
ambiguities with arithmetic expansion.
  • 21
    It should be noted that `...` and $(...) start a subshell anyway, so the inner (...) are not needed (waste a process). You'd need the space in things like $( (...); (...) ) for instance (where the inner subshells may be needed). Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 11:46

Try export X="$(echo "abc"; echo "def")"

  • Thanks this does work, but requires more editing than the other solution.
    – Harold
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 11:37
  • 2
    +1 for including the quotes that are needed in most POSIX shells (ksh and bash being the only exceptions). Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 11:40

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