I have a text file called "shoplist.txt" which one have:

drinks water cola fanta
fruit banana orange

And I want to get how many items per line I have. I'm able to extract drinks and fruit with function "cut" but how can I count how many words I have in each line?

My actually code is:

fileLine=`cat file.txt`
#Here I get each line saving it to fileLine
for line in $fileLine; do

But this code dosen't work because it save to %fileLine each work (drinks, then water,then cola,...)

How can I get the first line and then count the words on that line?

  • wc would do the necessary job in a loop. Mar 5, 2019 at 5:31
  • Is the output of the awk script in the answer what you want to have? If not, what exactly do you want to get?
    – Bodo
    Mar 5, 2019 at 11:09

3 Answers 3


If you can use awk, NF is the number of fields in the current line (by default, a field is a word delimited by any amount of whitespace).


awk '{ print NF, $0 }' inputfile

With your sample input, this will print

4 drinks water cola fanta
3 fruit banana orange
  • The more cryptic awk '$0=NF" "$0' inputfile is a shorter solution.
    – user232326
    Mar 5, 2019 at 4:14
  • @Isaac: Really ? Is shorter better ? In this specific case Bodo's answer is just the answer to OP, ... and [s]he beat us all to it. :-[
    – Cbhihe
    Mar 5, 2019 at 11:05
  • Thanks everyone for their advices. I didn't know about awk, thanks!
    – Multi
    Mar 5, 2019 at 17:25

In Bash and wc:

while read line; do
    wc -w <<< "$line"
done < file.txt

wc counts lines, words, bytes in files. With a shell loop you can make it count words in a line.

  • Thanks, I was aware about WC -l for lines but not for words, thanks!
    – Multi
    Mar 5, 2019 at 17:25
  • Upvote. Such a simple job no need to bother awk
    – Bruce
    Nov 3, 2019 at 21:52
  • 2
    Sure, @bruce. For 10,000 line file, why run awk when you can run 10,000 consecutive wc processes? Nov 28, 2019 at 19:02
  • Yes, you are right @Paul_Pedant. If performance becomes an issue, we definitely will go a programming language, such as awk, perl or python, or C who knows. But before that, I'd like to keep it simple enough.
    – Bruce
    Dec 1, 2019 at 0:30
  • 1
    @bruce: But Bodo published a one-liner that does what the 4-line shell does, but probably 200 times faster, and it got 14 upvotes. It's hardly a "programming language" issue: it contains one simple command. How would you explain the simplicity of <<< in the Bash version, for example? Dec 1, 2019 at 19:38

Maybe slightly out of context (though similar), as it concerns numbers aka (single) digits, but this supersimple awk-rule helped me out a lot to keep only those lines of a file with less than four times the high digits on each line:

awk -F [5,6,7,8,9] 'NF-1<4' IN > OUT 

'NF-1' to obtain an exact count of 0, 1, 2 or 3 high digits (not more).

  • 1
    I have no idea what question you are answering. I see no evidence that you are answering this question.  If you believe that you have some knowledge, insight or wisdom that is not present anywhere else on this site, then post a new question that asks the question that the above is an answer to, and then re-post this answer under it. Aug 21, 2022 at 8:38

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