When you trigger minibuffer completion for a partial command/filename/etc., the *Completions* buffer lists possible completions aligned vertically (in columns) but sorted horizontally.

../                ./                   ajax-proj/         algorithms/
angular-phone/     angular/             annex/             archives/
blog-ideas/        clojure-koans/       ctags58/           diff-tryout/
encodings/         filters/             game-table/        git-grounds/
hartl/             invoice_angel/       jQuery-basics/     java/
making/            ng-fundamentals/     node-meetup/       pickaxe/

I find this much more difficult to scan than if they were sorted vertically, like Bash does.

../                annex/               encodings/         jQuery-basics/
./                 archives/            filters/           java/
ajax-proj/         blog-ideas/          game-table/        making/
algorithms/        clojure-koans/       git-grounds/       ng-fundamentals/
angular-phone/     ctags58/             hartl/             node-meetup/
angular/           diff-tryout/         invoice_angel/     pickaxe/

Is there a setting that controls this?

2 Answers 2


There is the variable completions-format (since Emacs 23.2). Just set it to 'vertical.

  • 1
    Holy cow! Despite Emacs' wealth of configurability, I keep running into really annoying aspects that don't have an easy solution. Happy to hear this is not one of them. completions-format is exactly what I was looking for, and setting it to 'vertical did the trick. Thank you!
    – ivan
    Oct 9, 2016 at 18:54
  • Yes, I know the feeling … To be honest, I didn't know about this one myself. Ironically, I found out about it by browsing the documentation for icicles, pointed to by @Drew's answer. Oct 10, 2016 at 6:35
  • Hah, that really is ironic :)
    – ivan
    Oct 10, 2016 at 12:41
  • i am used to the unix ls command which sorts vertically by default; also this customizable variable is not in the existing completion group but in the minibuffer customization group (residing in minibuffer.el) acessible by customize-group minibuffer
    – user15057
    Jan 23, 2019 at 10:07

You can easily do this if you use Icicles - see Vertical Layout.

You can make this the default behavior by customizing option icicle-completions-format to have the value vertical.

And you can toggle between horizontal and vertical layout anytime during completion, using C-M-^.

This affects all minibuffer completion, whether by completing-read or read-file-name (or anything else that uses these).

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