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TOP 50 Easy Vim commands to speed up editing

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As old IT, Vim is there, and continues to progress with regularly updated versions and forks such as Neovim.

The problem: we can’t learn Vim by just using it. It requires a minimum training.

But Vim is easy. It just needs basic understanding and practice.
I want this guide to just get the regular Vim user get out of his “Notepad” thinking when using Vim.
It’s easy to break habits when you replace them with another one.

This post is nothing about completeness, but just about getting you in comfort with the Vim editor as fast as possible, providing tips to remember each shortcut.

Vim is everywhere, and vim keybindings can be installed in web browsers or any good editor, including Microsoft VS Code with the excellent vim plugin.

You know how to start vim, and know the first modes : Insert, Normal and Command (with :). We will skip that and go straight to the point.

For each command, you can find a highlighted tip or word letter to better remember them. I will focus only to the most used ones, eventually going a bit deeper at the end.

Let’s start

  • First, forget about the arrow key. Use j k h l for up/down/left/right to keep your hands on the keyboard.
  • It’s all about optimization, so when you realize that you moved or typed using poor key repetitions, force yourself go back to your previous position and restart the same move with efficient keys. It’s all about practice.
  • When you find yourself nervously repeating keystrokes, something is wrong. Go back to your previous position, and think. The only way to break bad habits.
  • Practice the actions as you read them with your vim. It’s only by trying them that you’ll understand and memorize them.

The basics

Here is a least of commands that are super easy to remember because they match with English words initials, that really the first ones everyone should know.

  • u for undo. You’ll use it a lot. The friend is in command mode to :redo or just :o
  • Use : to enter command mode :
    • :q! quit force (!)
    • :q quit (if the file wasn’t modified)
    • :e! re-edit current file, discarding all changes since last save (! force).
    • :help redo get help on the redo command, or any other command
    • :close closes the current window pane. Useful if you’re in help or any other pane, and want to get back to your file. And yes, in vim, windows are called panes, and «tabs» are called «windows», but this is for another post.
    • :w writes the file (save to disk)
    • :x should be used in place of the same :wq to write the file and quit the vim editor
    • <Esc> key is used to escape to the normal mode. Use it anytime after edit or to exit the command mode.

Most editing commands takes benefits from the moves, so it’s important to understand basic moves to get the power of them later.

Unless specified, they are all used in Normal mode, so after hitting <ESC> key if you’re in Insert mode.

Move horizontally – w e b W E B ^ 0 $

  • w moves to the next word beginning
  • e moves at the end of the current word
  • b moves at the beginning of the current word
  • The high caps alternatives W E B do the same with high power: it matches any non-blank character instead of just letters.
  • 0 and $ moves to the first character (column zero), or to the end
  • ^ also moves at the begining of the line, but unlike 0 it will stop before the first non blank character

Find horizontally – f F t T , ;

Those four commands search for a single character. I’ll take : as example, but try with any character in the line.

  • f: finds and move to the next : character
  • t: moves until the next : character
  • F: and T: the upper case versions search backwards
  • Bonus : , and ; are less used, but can repeat your last character search. , searches in the same direction, while ; in the opposite. (try them after one of the f F t T commands)

Move vertically – H L M gg G

  • H L M keys are used to move within the current screen High (at the top), Low (at the bottom) and Middle.
  • G and gg go to the end of the file or the beginning.
  • Bonus: I’ll add the zz shortcut here to scroll so the current line is displayed in the middle of the screen, it’s very handy when you look or show something. zz friends are zt and zb for scroll top and scroll bottom.


That’s the purpose of a text editor, isn’t it ? Let’s check the very basic ways to enter insert mode first:

  • i probably the first you learned to enter the insert mode, the friend I inserts before the first non-blank in the line.
  • o is very handy to open a new line below. O is the friend, it opens a new line before the current line
  • a is like i, but append text after the cursor. A to append at the end of the line
  • r d stands for replace and delete. They are usually used with a move, but can be used alone :
    dd to delete the current line
    rx to replace the current character with x, or any other character instead of x. Very useful for single letter typos.

Visual selection, copy and paste

  • v to enter the visual selection mode, then move with the above commands to select.
  • V selects line by line instead of character by character.
  • y to yank selected text while in visual mode. In vim, copy is called yank !
  • yy yanks the current line (like dd deletes the current line)
  • p to put (or paste) previously yanked text at the current position. (paste is called put in vim)
    P is the friend to put before the current line or position
    If you want to paste while in insert mode you have two options :
    • Hit <Esc> to exit to normal mode then p (Boring in my opinion)
    • <Ctrl>+r0 to enter in paste mode and insert the content of the last yank (copy) register named 0.
  • o to move cursor to the other end of the selection

yyp is very often used to duplicate the current line.
Similarly, ykp or yP are used to duplicate current visual selection (from visual mode).

Edit with power

  • ciw «change inner word» is extremely useful – try it when anywhere in the word. Unlike the shorter cw which will change the word from the cursor position to the end of the word, the ciw will change the whole word. You must learn that one quickly since it’s so often used once we get the habit of it.
  • caw «change a word» is a small variant that will change the word including the next white space.
  • diw and daw are the same moves/selections to «delete inner word» or «delete a word».

I insist on those commands, since there are many useful variations that will come to your mind.
It’s just a combination of an action such as a «change», a «delete», a «yank» or a «visual» selection, and a move such as «word» or «a word».

For instance :

  • vaw visually selects a word. But you can repeat while in visual mode. Try vawawaw. You should have 3 words selected.
  • vap visually selects a paragraph
  • yi} yank whats inner curly brackets pair like } (Try to yi} while between to {}, or yi) while between parenthesis, or yit while between two html or xml tags.


Most of the commands above can be repeated by just prefixing with a number. For instance :

  • v3iw will select 3 words, including the current with the inner.
  • v3w will also select 3 words, but since the inner is not specified, it will only select from the current cursor position. Can be annoying if you’re not at the begining of the word.
  • V4j visually selects 4 lines in the j direction (down)
  • bv3w is equivalent of v3iw since the b first moves to the first character of the word.
  • 25p will paste the content of the current register 25 times. (usually containing the last yank or delete)


Vim has several registers, very useful to yank and put (copy/paste) and also many other things such as Macros. The registers are named by a single letter or character.
The most importants :

  • " is the unnamed register, used by default for any delete and copy.
  • 0 is one of the 10 numbered registers, usefull it you want to paste the last yank (copy), even if you did some deletes after the yank (copy).
  • To use them, just prefix your command with " and the register character before the yank or put :
    • "ay will yank into the register a instead of the default unnamed (") register.
    • ""y is similar to just y since it explicitly yank into the unnamed register.
    • "xp will paste the content of the x register
    • "byiW will yank inner Word (notice the capital letter to extend the copy to any non-blank character)
  • Check :help registers to know more about them, or just :registers to see their content

The power of dot

The . command will repeat last modification. Combined with the / search it’s very powerful :

Imagine you have to replace the ‘few three words’ at many places in the file, but not all.

  • fist, you search for the 3 words : /few three words
  • Press n for next match or N for the previous
  • Once on the first word of a match you want to change, you can «change 3 a words» : c3aw (then <Esc> to go back to normal mode)
  • Then continue by pressing n to cycle through next matches, and . if you want to repeat the last c3aw.

Progressively try to use edit commands that you can repeat with . – It’s powerful if combined with :

  • Search /<regex n N
  • Find f F t T , ;

Move with marks

Sometimes you have to move quickly between two positions in the same file. Or just want to memorize a position to easily come back to it later.

  • ma will set the mark a at the current position
  • Move somewhere in the file
  • mb will set the mark b at the current position
  • 'a moves cursor to mark a
  • `’b` moves cursor to mark b
  • :marks to display marks


When «the power of dot» is not enough, you can record macros using the above commands. It’s very easy, try it.

  • qm starts a macro recording in register m (don’t use a register you use for yank / put)
  • q stops the recording
  • @m to execute the macro stored in register m, 20@m will repeat the m macro 20 times


  • If you have several lines to run the macro on, try to start the macro with an absolute move such as 0, and stops the macro recording at the beginning of next line.
  • You can use any command above in macros, including searches (/), yank, put, … It’s a kind of script.
  • When you don’t know how many times you want to replay the macro, just use a huge number : 999@m

Other useful commands

  • Start vim and search at the same time : vim ./Deployments.yaml +/^spec
  • Use view to just view a file, you can always for write with :w!
  • You can pipe any output in bash to vim. Example : tail -n100 /var/log/syslog | vim - (or view), you can use the powerful vim navigations in the pipe output, possibly edit, then :w pipeoutputeditedfile.txt
  • 33% moves the cursor to 33% of the file, or any provided percentage.
  • 50G moves the cursor to line 50, or any provided line number. Best used with :set nu to display line numbers.
  • With the ! you can send the file or a visual selection to an external command. For instance:
    :%!grep etc will pipe the whole file (%) through grep etc and will replace the content with grep output.
    You can apply any external command to a Visual selection like :!sort -n will numerically (-n) sort the current Visual selection (V)

Regular expressions

Regex are at the heart of Vim. The default mode (magic) requires to escape most regex characters.
It’s a good default since a search like /myfunc(.*a_param.*).*| will effectively match () as parenthesis and | as a pipe.

Prefix your regex with \v to enable the «very magic» option when want more power from regexes with fewer escapes (\).

For instance, the search /^\(\s\+\d\+\|\u\{3,}\) will search for lines starting with either:

  • spaces followed by digits
  • 3 or more lowercase letters without any leading space

The regex is almost unreadable. But with the «very magic» \v option, it becomes /\v(\s+\d+|\u{3,}) which is definitely more user-friendly.

Since vim might be used to work with files containing a lot of /, you can use an alternate regex separator such as ! or #.

Check :help regex for details


  • substitute on the whole file :%s/<regex>/<replacement>/ (% means the whole file)
  • substitute on a visual selection :s/<regex>/<replacement>/ on the lines selected visually (with V mode).

Advanced substitution example with a back reference in very magic mode, a \L lower case modifier, !as alternate regex separator and 2 regex modifiers (gi for general and insensitive)

:%s!\v/etc/(bind9?)/!/etc/named_\L\1/!gi will change any occurrence (general) of bind or bind9 (case insensitive) by prefixing the first (\1) parenthesis match with named_, and turn the case to low for the whole word (\L)

Original file content

After substitution

Control key

You learned about <ctrl>r in insert mode already, but vim has several commands with <ctrl> key.
The most important :

  • <ctrl>f and <ctrl>b to scroll forward and backward. (do not use <pageup> <pagedown> anymore)
  • <ctrl>a to add 1 to the number at the cursor position. (15<ctrl>a will add 15 to the current number) – <ctrl>x is the friend to decrement.
  • <ctrl>g displays general info such as file name and current location in file.
  • <ctrl>o moves the cursor out (back) in the last positions history. <ctrl>i is the friend to move in the position’s history. – Nice if you forgot to mark your previous position.
  • <ctrl>w is for all «window pane» commands. Useful if you have several panes, such as help, other files in the same window, or a vimdiff with 2 panes :
    • <ctrl>w followed by j k h l moves the cursor into the pane pointed by the j k h l direction
    • <ctrl>wo closes other panes to keep only the active one
    • <ctrl>wv splits vertically the current pane in 2, <ctrl>ws is the friend for the default horizontal split


With the above about 50 commands, you should already be very efficient with Vim editing.

While :help might not be the first place to learn Vim, you should now use it frequently. You can check any command with it. Try for instance :help !

In order to train on the above, any Vim will work. If you want to go to the next level, you can use my pivert/seashell docker image to get a preconfigured Vim with many plugins, intelligent autocomplete, regex previews, code help and linters… The first plugin to check in my opinion is the «surround» vim plugin. The «surround» plugin is also immediately available in the vim key bindings for VS Code.

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