How can I delete a word backward at the command line? I'm truly used to some editors deleting the last 'word' using Ctrl+Backspace, and I'd like that functionality at the command line too.

I am using Bash at the moment and although I could jump backward a word and then delete forward a word, I'd rather have this as a quick-key, or event as Ctrl+Backspace.

How can accomplish this?


Ctrl+W is the standard "kill word" (aka werase). Ctrl+U kills the whole line (kill).

You can change them with stty.

-bash-4.2$ stty -a
speed 38400 baud; 24 rows; 80 columns;
lflags: icanon isig iexten echo echoe -echok echoke -echonl echoctl
        -echoprt -altwerase -noflsh -tostop -flusho pendin -nokerninfo
        -extproc -xcase
iflags: -istrip icrnl -inlcr -igncr -iuclc ixon -ixoff ixany imaxbel
        -ignbrk brkint -inpck -ignpar -parmrk
oflags: opost onlcr -ocrnl -onocr -onlret -olcuc oxtabs -onoeot
cflags: cread cs8 -parenb -parodd hupcl -clocal -cstopb -crtscts -mdmbuf
cchars: discard = ^O; dsusp = ^Y; eof = ^D; eol = <undef>;
        eol2 = <undef>; erase = ^?; intr = ^C; kill = ^U; lnext = ^V;
        min = 1; quit = ^\; reprint = ^R; start = ^Q; status = <undef>;
        stop = ^S; susp = ^Z; time = 0; werase = ^W;
-bash-4.2$ stty werase ^p
-bash-4.2$ stty kill ^a

Note that one does not have to put the actual control character on the line, stty understands putting ^ and then the character you would hit with control.

After doing this, if I hit Ctrl+P it will erase a word from the line. And if I hit Ctrl+A, it will erase the whole line.

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  • 1
    Using the stty command I attempted to assign the "kill word" to Ctrl+BckSpc by typing stty werase followed by Ctrl-v Ctrl-Backspace. This inserts the literal Ctrl-Backspace character as the argument for stty werase. Unfortunately it does not require typing Ctrl-Backspace to delete the word but works with just the Backspace key. So I would like to second the request of @terdon to learn how to do this. To reset the werase to default, use stty werase Ctrl-v Ctrl-w. – Timothy Martin Oct 10 '13 at 7:26
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    @TimothyMartin I'm a little stuck on how to do ctrl-backspace. Backspace is generally sent as either ctrl-h or ctrl-?, so ctrl-backspace would somehow be ctrl-ctrl-backspace. I did try to figure out if something different was sent, but putty, at least, just sends backspace when you type ctrl-backspace. – kurtm Oct 10 '13 at 14:13
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    ctrl + w effectively deletes the word but it also copies to the clipboard, erasing anything you had stored (or pushing it down?). – Elijah Lynn Dec 28 '15 at 17:44
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    esc - delete just worked :-) – Rene Wooller Nov 23 '16 at 5:53
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    Do I understand correctly that despite this answer being accepted and the 200 upvotes no one ever figured out how to map backward delete word to CTRL+Backspace. (I have that combination setup everywhere else so I would really like to keep it.) – Kvothe Aug 6 at 8:43

Alt+Backspace works for me in bash and zsh.

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You can also do this with CtrlW.

Another option is to set your own shortcut but this will depend on the terminal emulator you are using. For xterm and rxvt and maybe others, add this line to your ~/.inputrc (create the file if it does not exist):

## rxvt, xterm

gnome-terminal and its ilk seem to have AltBackspace by default but apparently require you to patch readline() in order to get CtrlBackspace.

Also see:

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On Mac, you can use:


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    That deletes 1 character in front of the cursor, not 1 word behind – Dannid Oct 14 '16 at 18:45
  • Don't know if this is still relevant, but that would be <Alt> + <Backspace> on Mac. – Hassan Jan 15 '17 at 2:15

In Ubuntu 18.04.4 pressing Ctrl+V and then Ctrl+Backspace reveals that the Ctrl+Backspace combination is written as ^H.

You can show all current terminal key combinations using stty -a. In this case we want to change werase to ^H which can be done with

stty werase ^H

For any other key you want to remap you would again see how to write the new combination using Ctrl+V followed by the combination.

And you can find the command name (such as werase) by looking at stty -a and looking for the key combination an action is currently bound to.

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  • It's 2020 and we can use backspace correctly on Linux :). The good news is I don't think this is specific to Ubuntu (see cs.colostate.edu/~mcrob/toolbox/unix/keyboard.html for some info). I've tried several different terminal emulators on arch and ^H works in each case. – Pippip19 Aug 30 at 17:40

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