I tried these two, but none of them worked.

(if (looking-at "\[") (insert "f"))

(if (looking-at "[") (insert "f"))

How can I escape square brackets in emacs regexp?

2 Answers 2


Try this:

(if (looking-at "\\[") (insert "f"))

Usually you will need to escape your escaping backslash. This tutorial has a short explanation of the "double backslash".

When in doubt, I always use the built-in re-builder. If you try this on a buffer with [ in it, you will find that "\\[" will match them. Pressing C-c C-w in the re-builder will copy the regular expression to your kill-ring to yank back into the function you are working on.

  • 2
    This answer has more detail on using re-builder, and when escaping is necessary.
    – user2699
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 17:28

All you need is this: (if (looking-at "[[]") (insert "f")).

In general, "special" regexp characters are not special within brackets.

See the Elisp manual, node Regexp Special. It tells you this about special chars and bracketed char classes:

Note also that the usual regexp special characters are not special inside a character alternative. A completely different set of characters is special inside character alternatives: ‘]’, ‘-’ and ‘^’.

To include a ‘]’ in a character alternative, you must make it the first character. For example, ‘[]a]’ matches ‘]’ or ‘a’. To include a ‘-’, write ‘-’ as the first or last character of the character alternative, or put it after a range. Thus, ‘[]-]’ matches both ‘]’ and ‘-’. (As explained below, you cannot use ‘]’ to include a ‘]’ inside a character alternative, since ‘\’ is not special there.)

  • (font-lock-add-keywords 'sql-mode '( ("\[[^]]*\]" . font-lock-function-name-face) )) does not work. How do I include ] char in a list of "excluded chars"?
    – Adobe
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 21:22
  • @Adobe: Define "does not work" - it's not clear what you're trying to do or what you're doing and what you're seeing. Anyway, it looks like you have an extra [. Did you try "\[^]]*\]? That excludes ]. It makes little sense to write \[[^]\], which says match either [ or anything other than newline and ]. The second set of chars includes the first.
    – Drew
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 23:47
  • I wanted a regexp that matches thing in square brackets including square brackets themselves to be on function-name face. However "\[[^]]*\]" applies only to empty square brackets. I think this regexp means: "looking for something that starts with square bracket, followed by any number of any chars but new line and square bracket, and ends with square bracket as well".
    – Adobe
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 20:41
  • No. It doesn't. Everything between \[ and \] represents one character - any character of those specified. You follow that by *, meaning zero or more of them. Nothing in what you wrote specifies [ followed by... Please consult the Elisp manual, node Syntax of Regexps and its subnodes.
    – Drew
    Commented Apr 24, 2018 at 23:02

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