If I try to run a;;b in sh, I get this error:

sh: <number>: Syntax error: ";;" unexpected

If I try a;;;b I get the same error, not ;;; instead of ;;, so I think that ;; means something, although I don't know what does it mean.

Here is an example:

$ echo A;;echo B
sh: 1: Syntax error: ";;" unexpected
$ echo A;;;echo B
sh: 1: Syntax error: ";;" unexpected
$ echo A; ;echo B
sh: 1: Syntax error: ";" unexpected

Here you can see that when I use ; ; instead of ;; the error is different, pertaining to the fact that I used ; without a command before. ;; seems to be a different operator, although I don't know what it applies to.

  • 1
    Can't search on Google because of the ;;, and haven't found a dupe here.
    – EKons
    Apr 18, 2017 at 10:48
  • 3
    Googled "sh double semicolon" ... stackoverflow.com/questions/16905183/…
    – muru
    Apr 18, 2017 at 10:51
  • @muru Although not posted here yet I think.
    – EKons
    Apr 18, 2017 at 10:52
  • @ΈρικΚωνσταντόπουλος That's what SymbolHound is for symbolhound.com
    – Joe
    Apr 22, 2017 at 5:00

1 Answer 1


;; separates statements in a case...esac construct in POSIX shells:

case foo in (a) cmd1; cmd2 ;; (b) cmd3; cmd4; esac

To find out about a command, you can run man that-command. If your pager is less, you can search within the man page by pressing /.

Here, you'd run man sh and search for ;;. Some shells support other operators to separate case statements (like ;& in ksh93/zsh/bash/mksh, &| in zsh/mksh, ;;& in bash).

  • 1
    I just posted here because I think there should be such a question here anyways, since here it could be explained in a clearer way if someone is confused.
    – EKons
    Apr 18, 2017 at 10:59
  • 2
    If there are lots of hits, or you can't remember the escaping rules for searching with less, it's sometimes handy to $ man bash|grep -C1 ';;'
    – unhammer
    Apr 19, 2017 at 9:20
  • You shouldn't have ( before a) and b), and you need ;; after cmd4
    – Barmar
    Apr 19, 2017 at 18:56
  • @Barmar, that syntax is POSIX. In the Bourne shell, you had to omit the ( indeed, but you still didn't need the ;; before esac (though it didn't harm). Apr 19, 2017 at 19:29
  • Thanks. I didn't know about that change in POSIX shell, or that the last ;; was optional.
    – Barmar
    Apr 19, 2017 at 19:42

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