I have a plain text file with LaTeX commands like \hspace{5cm}. To convert this file to .odt some of my custom commands are not converted correctly. So I want to automatically find & replace specific commands but keep the content of the brackets (meaning that I want to keep most of the commands and just delete some). I know that I can just open gedit and do the replacing by hand, but this is for a script for repeated, automatic replacement.

I already searched for this, but so far only found answers to delete brackets while keeping there content (cf. here, here)). I also looked at some introductions to sed (e.g. here or here) without any success.


This is my \textbf{text} where there are about \prc{5} commands, i.e. \mErrRange{30}{20}{m}.

So, since these are a percentage and an error range, I want to delete the command & curly brackets and get something like this (keeping the \textbf{...} command):

This is my \textbf{text} where there are 5 % commands, i.e. 30 ± 20 m.

What I tried so far:

Various ways to usesed, like:

sed -i -e 's/\\prc{\(.*\)}/\1%/g' hello.txt

This already gives me:

This is my \textbf{text} where there are about 5} commands, i.e. \mErrRange{30}{20}{m%.

(Replacing the last curly bracket in the line, but leaving the other one in its place.)

So, now I have no clue how to continue with that. Maybe I should use another tool instead of sed?! I am happy about any suggestion running on Ubuntu & in the terminal without installing too much.


Here's a way:

sed 's/\\prc{\([^}]*\)}/\1 %/g'

This will capture everything inside the brackets following \prc and save it in group 1, you can use this to replace the command with the content of the brackets. [^}]* simply takes everything except the closing bracket here. g stands for “globally” and means it will substitute all occurences of the pattern in the line instead of just the first one – you'll want that for every expression in your case.

As for the other one, just use multiple groups:

sed 's/\\mErrRange{\([^}]*\)}{\([^}]*\)}{\([^}]*\)}/\1 ± \2 \3/g'

You can combine as many of those expressions as you like, but it gets easily unclear. I recommend writing a sed script with one expression per line like so:

#!/bin/sed -f
s/\\prc{\([^}]*\)}/\1 %/g
s/\\mErrRange{\([^}]*\)}{\([^}]*\)}{\([^}]*\)}/\1 ± \2 \3/g

Save it as e.g. script.sed, make it executable with chmod +x /path/to/script.sed and run it with /path/to/script.sed.

Example run

$ /path/to/script.sed <hello.txt
This is my \textbf{text} where there are about 5 % commands, i.e. 30 ± 20 m.

I let the shell open input files as often as possible, hence <hello.txt instead of just hello.txt (which also works!). If you're interested in what ups this exactly has I recommend this answer on unix.SE.

  • Thank you, this works great! I was searching for the [^}]* part. It is imho hard to find good documentation on sed. – bamphe Feb 5 '18 at 13:55
  • Oh, just saw that you forgot to escape the \prc & \mErrRange in the script part (but couldn't edit it since these are not > 6 char.) And thanks for the extra explanation on why to use <hello.txt here :) – bamphe Feb 5 '18 at 14:03
  • @bamphe You're totally right, I corrected it – thank you! As for regular expressions, I really like regular-expressions.info, sed uses POSIX BRE and what you searched for are POSIX Bracket Expressions. To try it out I often use regexr.com. – dessert Feb 5 '18 at 14:15
  • Nice! These are really helpful sites, thanks again :) – bamphe Feb 5 '18 at 14:26

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