I need some help in setting the correct pattern for grep. I need to find all occurrences of pattern where line may have leading space(s). For example: In the following file:

 1. No pattern recognized.
 2. Pattern to be recognized
 3.          Pattern to be recognized here also
 4.  pattern with only one leading space 

I would like to grep only lines 2,3 and 4. The line numbers are just for the reference.

So far I have tried the following:

grep -i '^ [[:blank:]]pattern', but it returns only line 4.

grep -i '[[:blank:]]pattern' returns 1,3 and 4.

grep -i '^[[:blank:]]pattern' returns 1,3 and 4.

-- Mike P.S. If this is not the appropriate forum, then please guide me accordingly.

  • What is the difference between 3 and 4? they both start with space right?
    – Ravexina
    Jun 19, 2017 at 15:43
  • 1
    Can't you simply match zero or more spaces at the start i.e. grep '^ *Pattern' file? (or '^[ \t]*Pattern' for spaces or tabs; or '^[[:blank:]]*Pattern' for any horizontal whitespace) Jun 19, 2017 at 15:52
  • @Ravexina, the diff is number of spaces. As in my first attempt, I was getting only 4 and not 3. Jun 19, 2017 at 16:02
  • Thanks, @steeldriver, I was missing * between the blank and the pattern. Its working! Jun 19, 2017 at 16:03

2 Answers 2


Your line 2 and 3 has upper case P and requires zero or more spaces, so specify exactly that:

$ grep '[[:blank:]]*Pattern'  input.txt                                  
 Pattern to be recognized
         Pattern to be recognized here also

Personally, I'd recommend extending your pattern with something else, like '[[:blank:]]Pattern.*recognized'

  • Thanks. Its working. To take care of uppercase and lowercase, I use grep -i. I was actually missing * between the [[:blank:]] and the pattern in my first attempt. But what I actually wanted was grep '^[[:blank:]]*Pattern' input.txt, otherwise it returns 1 as well. Jun 19, 2017 at 16:05
  • @MikeV.D.C. well, assuming your input is the same as your example, you have leading spaces in each line. So with grep -i it doesn't quite work. I guess it would be much better if we knew the actual data and pattern you're trying to do Jun 19, 2017 at 16:07
  • The numbers in the sample are just for reference. May be I should have mentioned that in the OP. Jun 19, 2017 at 16:10
  • Ah,so lines 1 and 4 actually don't have leading space ? Jun 19, 2017 at 16:11
  • Line 1 doesnt have, but line 4 has one. Jun 19, 2017 at 16:12

What I get is you want either no leading space at all, like line #2 or more than of one space, cause you are excluding line #4 which has one space.

so I suggest:

egrep -i '^\s*pattern' file.txt | grep -v '^\spattern'

or using a single awk:

awk 'tolower($0) ~ /^\s*pattern/ && !/^\spattern/ ' file.txt
  • \s as space you can change it with blank if you want.
  • egrep -i '^\s*pattern' file.txt first we get all lines started with or without any times leading space following by pattern.
  • grep -v '^\spattern': then we exclude the ones which contains exactly one leading space.

The above example works on a file without numbering, if your file contains leading numbers use this one:

egrep -i '\s*pattern' file.txt | grep -v '\spattern'

or for awk:

awk 'tolower($0) ~ /\s*pattern/ && !/\spattern/ ' file.txt

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