How can I find count of every word in a file?

I want a histogram of each word in text pipe or document. New line and empty lines will exist in document. I stripped everything except for [a-zA-Z].

> cat doc.txt 
word second third 

word really
> cat doc.txt | ... # then count occurrences of each word \
                    # and print in descending order separated by delimiter
word 2
really 1
second 1
third 1

It needs to be somewhat efficient as file is 1GB text and cannot work with exponential time load.

  • Does unix.stackexchange.com/q/398413/117549 help?
    – Jeff Schaller
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 14:55
  • Do you really want a fish-specific answer? I'd use perl Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 14:58
  • @glennjackman perl is perfectly fine. fish is there to make sure it work on fish and isn't just bash/zsh specific answer as those aren't that useful for me
    – user14492
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 15:26
  • Is Unix-system one word or two? What about GNU/Linux?
    – Kusalananda
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 16:42
  • @Kusalananda like I said only [a-zA-Z] so hypen cannot exist; only letters small and capital case :) What about GNU/Linux. I chose to tag macOS because I want to make sure that people assume macOS flavor of tools and only expect macOS default tools to exist (installing a separate tool is overkill imo).
    – user14492
    Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 20:22

2 Answers 2


Try this:

grep -o '\w*' doc.txt | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr
  • -o Print each match instead of matching lines
  • \w* Match word characters
  • sort sort the matches before piping to uniq.
  • uniq -c print the uniqe lines and the number of occurences -c
  • sort -nr Reverse sort by number of occurences.


  2 word
  1 third
  1 second
  1 really


Use awk for the exact output:

$ grep -o '\w*' doc.txt \
| awk '{seen[$0]++} END{for(s in seen){print s,seen[s]}}' \
| sort -k2r

word 2
really 1
second 1
third 1
  • With GNU awk, don't need external sort: END {PROCINFO["sorted_in"] = "@val_num_desc"; for (s in seen) print s, seen[s]} Commented Aug 12, 2020 at 16:35
perl -lnE '
  $count{$_}++ for /[[:alpha:]]+/g;
  END {
    say "@$_" for
      sort {$b->[1] <=> $a->[1] || $a->[0] cmp $b->[0]}
      map {[$_, $count{$_}]}
      keys %count
' doc.txt

This will consume lots more memory than pLumo's initial solution.

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