From grep's manual

‘-e pattern’

This can be used to specify multiple search patterns, or to protect a pattern beginning with a ‘-’. (‘-e’ is specifi ed by POSIX.)

What does "specify multiple search patterns" mean?

Does it mean exactly to output each line which contains all the search patterns specified by -e? If yes, does it do the same thing as piping multiple greps, each of which matches one of the patterns?


  • Works just as or operator. Especially usefull in case of patterns starting with dash (i.e man awk |grep C10 -e "-F" -e "OFS" Feb 16 '17 at 23:03

To clarify the existing comments and answer: no, it doesn't work the way the OP described.

In fact:

grep -e foo -e bar -e baz myfile

prints out the lines containing either foo or bar or baz.

grep foo myfile | grep bar | grep baz

prints out the lines containing foo and bar and baz (not necessarily in this order).

  • 3
    Your second command line should read grep foo myfile | grep bar | grep baz, otherwise, its output would be the one of grep baz myfile as grep ignores its stdin when one or more file names are provided as arguments.
    – jlliagre
    Aug 14 '17 at 14:33
  • @jiliagre Oops. Good catch. Fixed, and thank you.
    – dr_
    Aug 14 '17 at 19:40

No, it doesn't mean the patterns are ANDed together.

What it means is that you can specify multiple patterns, without the second and subsequent patterns being interpreted as filenames.

Consider the following:

grep pattern1 file1

Simple enough. Now consider:

grep pattern1 file1 file2


# This doesn't work
grep pattern1 pattern2 file1 file2
# But this does.  There's no difference that's obvious to a computer.
grep pattern1 file1 file2 file3

Do you see the problem?

But, with -e, you can do:

grep -e pattern1 -e pattern2 file1 file2

From the POSIX grep description:

By default, an input line shall be selected if any pattern [...] matches any part of the line excluding the terminating <newline>.

  • 6
    Translation: multiple patterns are OR-ed together, while piping multiple greps means AND-ing together the corresponding patterns. Feb 16 '17 at 5:43

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