This question already has an answer here:

$ a='"apple","ball","cat"'
$ a='['$a
$ echo $a
$ a=$a']'
$ echo $a

I'm stumped hard by the result b while I expect to see ["apple,"ball","cat"]. What am I missing here?

This is from bash shell on Mac. Also see it on CentOS 7, while not on Fedora. Can someone please explain?

marked as duplicate by jasonwryan, thrig, Stephen Rauch, Gilles bash Nov 15 '17 at 12:50

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  • Some of your lines begin with a dollar sign ($). Is that the Bash prompt or are you typing that in? – cherdt Nov 14 '17 at 22:23
  • I'm assuming the dollar signs are Bash prompts, in which case I am not able to reproduce the behavior you've described. – cherdt Nov 14 '17 at 22:24
  • What do you get if you run it under set -xv? – choroba Nov 14 '17 at 22:28
  • Sorry, yes, that is indeed the bash prompt. – Coder321 Nov 14 '17 at 22:36
  • @choroba, this is what I see a=[$a] a=[$a] + a='["apple","ball","cat"]' but when I do echo $a + echo b b – Coder321 Nov 14 '17 at 22:37

There is a file with the name b in the current directory.


is a pattern matching expression. It matches every file of which the name consists of a single letter between [ and ].

This is similar to having * in a variable value and using the variable without quotes.


Hauke already answered why it's happening. For future reference, you can also troubleshoot what is happening with strace:

$ touch a b l
$ a='["apple","ball"]'                                                      
$ strace -e trace=execve echo $a
execve("/bin/echo", ["echo", "a", "b", "l"], [/* 82 vars */]) = 0
a b l
+++ exited with 0 +++

Or with set -x:

$ set -x; echo $a
+ set -x
+ echo a b l
a b l

It's might not immediately be clear, but at least you see that shell has converted the unquoted variable into a list of items; from there we can deduce that filename expansion occurred.

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