I have a bunch of files that contain XML tags like:

<h> PIDAT <h> O

I need to delete everything what comes after the first <h> in that line, so I can get this:


For that I'm using

sed -i -e 's/(^<.*?>).+/$1/' *.conll

But it seems that sed is not recognizing the $1. (As I understand, $1 should delete everything what is not contained in the group). Is there a way I can achieve this? I'd really appreciate if you could point me in the right direction.

PS: I tested those expressions on a regex app and they worked, but it is not working from the command line.

1 Answer 1


sed backreferences have the form \1, \2, etc. $1 is more Perl-like. Also, if using basic regular expressions (BRE), you need to escape the parentheses (...) forming a group, as well as ? and +. Or you can use extended regular expressions with the -E option.

Note that sed regexes are greedy, so <.*> will match <h> PIDAT <h> in that line, instead of stopping at the first >. And .*? does not make sense (.* already can match nothing, so making it optional via ? is unnecessary).

This might work:

sed -i -Ee 's/^(<[^>]*>).*/\1/' *.conll

[^>] matches everything except >, so <[^>]*> will match <h> but not <h> PIDAT <h>.

  • 1
    Another possibility is that the OP might be thinking that .*? is a non-greedy match. Your solution, of course, has that covered.
    – John1024
    Jul 5, 2018 at 6:01
  • 1
    @John1024 ah, yes, I forgot PCRE uses *? for non-greedy match. That makes sense now.
    – muru
    Jul 5, 2018 at 6:02
  • Impressive. Thank you for your explanation! I got an error with your line of code: "\1 not defined in the RE", but after a quick Google search, I realized it was because it didn't escape the (), but that was also given in your answer ;) Anyway, thanks again!! Jul 5, 2018 at 6:03
  • 1
    @CarolinaCárdenas did you get that error when using the -E option?
    – muru
    Jul 5, 2018 at 6:04
  • @muru yes. Exactly. Jul 5, 2018 at 6:35

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