I try to apply a style to a string of words that is beginning a paragraph and before a colon.

I prepared a first Grep search but it is not working (it is only placing the cursor before the colon without selecting anything...


Any idea?

1 Answer 1


In the beginning you have (?=^). A Positive Lookahead that looks ahead to see if a Beginning of Paragraph comes after whatever text you have before the lookahead (in this case none). Then you have *? which searches for Zero or More Times (Shortest Match) of that Positive Lookahead. It's a bit malformed. You don't actually select any characters.

For your approach to work you would have to use a Positive Lookbehind (?<=^) that looks behind to see if a Beginning of Paragraph comes before the text without selecting it. Then use .*? to select any character Zero or More Times (Shortest Match) and a Positive Lookahead (?=:) to end the selection before a colon:


But you can write it simpler. ^ is always non-matching, so you don't need the lookbehind:


  • ^ itself is non-matching, so it’s not necessary to do a lookbehind at all – in fact, I wouldn’t have thought a lookbehind for a ^ would even work at all. Your version will also match non-initial strings, though (i.e., if there are two colons, it will match the string between them), so a ^ is needed. *? is perfectly valid: it’s a non-greedy wildcard match. You could even use this to make the query a bit simpler: ^.*?: will match the same as ^[^:]*: (including the colon), and ^.*?(?=:) will match the same as your ^[^:]*(?=:) (with the extra ^). Feb 1, 2021 at 20:23
  • 1
    I’m guessing the reason why the original query just places the cursor before the colon is that (?=^) by definition cannot match anything, but is apparently not invalid syntactically, so it’s equivalent to an empty, non-matching group. This empty group (= anything that’s not a non-empty match, i.e., any position between characters) is then matched non-greedily up until a position where it’s followed by a colon (from the lookahead) – that is, the position between the colon and the character immediately preceding it. Definitely not normal use of GREP, though! Feb 1, 2021 at 20:28
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, using the non-greedy wildcard *? is nice, but I don't understand why you feel the need to have ^ in the beginning. To me it seems that .*?(?=:) works just as well as ^.*?(?=:). See here and notice how it doesn't select the string between the colons. Am I missing something?
    – Wolff
    Feb 1, 2021 at 21:15
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, and please, if I say something wrong about GREP in my answer, don't hesitate to fix it!
    – Wolff
    Feb 1, 2021 at 21:19
  • That’s in a GREP style, which only matches once per paragraph. The question mentions a GREP search, which will match multiple times per paragraph (unless the query contains a paragraph mark or $, of course). If you do a find/replace-all with the same query, it should match the string between the colons as well. Feb 1, 2021 at 21:19

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