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5.00/5 (2 votes)

I cannot find a valid regular expression pattern for my needs.

I have a sample string like this:

I have four child of seven years each, [seven] years ago I had no child, because I was fourteen

now, I want match and then substitute the words "four" and "[seven]".

So I have used a pattern like:


(searches using word boundaries to match exact words. Square brackets are escaped to match them literally)

but only "four" is matched and substituted.

If I change the pattern to:


"four" and "[seven]" are both matched. But because I have removed the word boundary command "\b", now partial word matches can happen ("four" into "fourteen", for example) and this is not what I want.

Ultimately seems that "\b" has to do with this strange behaviour but I don't know why and how to solve.

Any help is appreciated. Thanks.
Updated 1-Jul-11 6:13am
Manfred Rudolf Bihy 1-Jul-11 12:57pm
I like your question! 5+
Please also see my answer for an explanation.
thatraja 1-Jul-11 13:15pm
/*I like your question! 5+*/
Manfred, I think you clicked Vote 1 instead of Vote 5 :)
vlad781 1-Jul-11 17:07pm
I clicked 5

[seven] does not match definition of 'world class'. Try to use \bfour\b|\[seven\]
See here for details

I recommend you to download Expresso and play with it
Nyarlatotep 1-Jul-11 12:44pm
Uhm yes, now that you have pointed out it seems clear that this is the cause.
Thanks, it seems I need further study on regular expression universe :)
Let me elaborate a bit on what Catalin already said. \w is the class of characters "[A-Za-z0-9_]". Word boundaries can occurr only right next to these characters. The code below illustrates this quite nicely:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using System.Text.RegularExpressions;

using TestSupportService.ServiceReference;

namespace TestSupportService
    class Program
        static void Main(string[] args)

            String example = "I have four child of seven years each, [seven] years ago I had no child, because I was fourteen";
            Regex rexWillDo = new Regex(@"\bfour\b|\[\bseven\b\]");
            Regex rexWontDo = new Regex(@"\bfour\b|\b\[seven\]\b");

            Console.WriteLine("Now you see it!");
            MatchCollection matches = rexWillDo.Matches(example);
            foreach (Match match in matches)

            Console.WriteLine("\nAnd now you don't!");
            matches = rexWontDo.Matches(example);
            foreach (Match match in matches)


So by moving the word boundary detectors next to (real) word characters the expression works. I do admit that I also did not expect that kind of behavior. Regular expressions usually work quite nicely for me, but once in a while MS's implementation of it rears it's ugly head and bites us. :(


Nyarlatotep 1-Jul-11 13:03pm
I did not expected it too. But it seems that the real \b behavior is what has been indicated by Catalin. I want to try the same pattern in other languages (PHP incidentally) and see how it behaves. But I think it will be the same.

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