As most of you probably know, you can use % to search forwards on the line to find the next paired brace/bracket/paren and move to its matched partner:

|a|rray[index] = value;
" |e| is the cursor; hit %:
array[index|]| = value;

I am hoping there is a similar key that searches backwards on the line, e.g.:

array[index] = value|;|
" |;| is the cursor again, hit the key I'm looking for:
array|[|index] = value;

Most vim commands have both a backwards and forwards, so it seems this should to. Does it not have a partner? If so, is that because once it's on a paired character they would act the same?

  • It should be noted that % not only searches for the paired bracket on the same line, but further down the file. I like it especially for loops etc in any program language of choice.
    – Bernhard
    Jan 30, 2012 at 18:51
  • 1
    @Bernhard Yes, but only when it finds one of the braces on the line.
    – Kevin
    Jan 30, 2012 at 18:54
  • If you are not opposed to addon scripts, the matchit addon provides a g% command that seems similar to what you are looking for.
    – jw013
    Jan 30, 2012 at 20:18
  • Silly but, your question states that you want to know why there is no partner. Do you mean "is there some partner that I don't know about?" :)
    – rjewell
    Jan 31, 2012 at 2:51
  • @rjewell OK, I've split it so it's no longer technically asking that.
    – Kevin
    Jan 31, 2012 at 3:13

3 Answers 3


If you really want to search backwards for common matching characters, you can use one of these vim-specific commands:

  • [( ...(go to previous unmatched ( character)
  • [{ ...(go to previous unmatched { character)

These two commands have matching forwards partners:

  • ]) ...(go to next unmatched ) character)
  • ]} ...(go to next unmatched } character)

There are other similar commands for #ifdef and for C comments.

You can find more when in vim by using the command :help %.

  • I know of these, the problem is they find unmatched pairs, I need to find matched pairs.
    – Kevin
    Feb 16, 2012 at 17:05
  • @Kevin: I misunderstood the docs (sigh). Of course, once you've used % then it goes both ways - finding the matched partner. Also, if inside a block, then the above commands will find the appropriate match.
    – Mei
    Feb 16, 2012 at 17:07

% find the matching bracket. So if you are on ( or { it will search forward.

If you are on a } or ) it will search backwards.

% is not directional, it just find the matching bracket.

  • If I'm behind one side of a pair, % will find it's partner. If I'm on the end of a line, it won't find the pair earlier on the line.
    – Kevin
    Feb 17, 2012 at 0:20
  • Shouldnt this be selected the right answer?
    – Jack
    Jan 3, 2020 at 20:24

I just tried :map ^] ^%% (with ^] = Ctrl+v Ctrl+5 here, as an analogy with % = Shift+5).

It works for the specific case given, but because it doesn't search backwards from the cursor, it will always pick the first open parenthesis on the line, and leave your cursor at the start of the line if it doesn't find any match.

This is a better solution; it's ugly and there's probably lots of room to simplify, but I think the semantics are exactly right (doesn't move cursor if there is no open paren, and moves to the first open paren before the current column).

:map ^] ^[:call search("[({[]", "bes", line("."))^M


  • ^] = Ctrl+v Ctrl+5
  • ^[ = Ctrl+v Esc
  • ^M = Ctrl+v Return
  • This won't quite be the same if there are two non-nested pairs on a line, but it certainly is the best suggestion so far, thanks.
    – Kevin
    Feb 16, 2012 at 17:45
  • This will only work within a block, right? If so, then [( would work just as well and doesn't require a map.
    – Mei
    Feb 16, 2012 at 17:54
  • There would have to be a block beginning on the current line, yes. I've found a more complete solution though, edit coming ...
    – Useless
    Feb 16, 2012 at 18:12

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