I was wondering if it's possible to use a Perl RegEx in a .vim syntax file instead of Vim Speak.

If I have a syntax file such as


" Vim syntax file
" Language:     Custom None
" Maintainer:   Nobody

if exists("b:current_syntax")

syn match noneIndentError "*Some Vim Speak RegEx*"

hi def link noneIndentError Error

let b:current_syntax = "none"

Is it possible to use a Perl RegEx inside of the syn match instead of a Vim Speak one? My RegEx is written for Perl and I can't seem to get it to work in Vim Speak

(?:^)(?: {4})*+( {1,})

The RegEx just tests for spaces that aren't included in the indented 4 spaces, you can see it here if you'd like


  • What is "Vim Speak"?
    – Kusalananda
    May 7 at 9:49
  • 1
    I don't see anything in there that can't be matched in Vim. Are you having trouble with zero-width matches?
    – muru
    May 7 at 9:50
  • If this can be matched in Vim that would be amazing but I cannot for the life of me figure it out, it isn't happy with the *+ May 7 at 10:37
  • You don't need the *+. It's just an optimization for Perl. A plain old * would work fine.
    – muru
    May 7 at 11:11

The following match should do what you want:

syn match noneIndentError /^\( \{4\}\)*\zs \{,3\}/

Using \zs, you can exclude the pattern before it from the match, so it's a simpler way to write zero-width look-arounds (it's similar to \K in Perl). Then it matches up to 3 spaces.

Here's how it matches various lines:

      foo #

  1. 6 spaces followed by text
  2. 3 spaces followed by text
  3. 5 spaces
  4. 4 spaces
  5. 8 spaces followed by text
  • This does exactly what I need it to do, I am unfamiliar with \zs but it looks like that was just what it needed May 7 at 13:43
  • Just doing a bit of digging and I'm finding some strange functionality with \zs. It looks like it breaks some other match expressions, for example if you have syn match checkNumber "\<[0-9]\+\>" and then the \zs expression following after May 7 at 15:52
  • @TheLovelySausage can't reproduce in 8.2-2815: i.stack.imgur.com/xZ2PK.png (I did :syn match checkNumber "\<[0-9]\+\>", :hi link checkNumber Keyword, :syn match noneIndentError /^\( \{4\}\)*\zs \{,3\}/, :hi link noneIndentError Error)
    – muru
    May 8 at 4:17
  • @TheLovelySausage Sometimes using \zs and ze in syn match expressions might pose a problem if you expect the part that's not part of the match to actually match some other syn match rule... In those cases, you'll need to do an actual zero-width look-behind or look-ahead. But it's hard to tell you what's wrong with your setup without more details, so perhaps ask a separate question for that if you like. BTW, you might like the Vi and Vim Stack Exchange for questions on Vim (oh, I guess already told you about it in another question...)
    – filbranden
    May 9 at 23:56
  • Hello again @filbranden !, yes it's me again and it looks like you're right, the first instance of \zs is not finding a match so the expression doesn't have a \ze. I onlt really know Perl RegEx so this has me baffled. I def want to try the Vim exchange May 10 at 6:49

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