In Perl RegEx, we have the look-ahead/behind feature; it there a similar functionality available for Wolfram Language patterns?

Re @mikado:

  • Suppose we have a random expression in FullForm, something like (do forgive me for writing this like lousy json):
    h22[l221, l222]
    h32[l221, l222]

where I would hope to select (restricted to the first level) all the cases of Sequence[h1[___],h2[h21[],___]] between a l1 and a h3[_,h32[__]]. What's the way to do this?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Can you give an example of an expression you would like to match? $\endgroup$
    – mikado
    Jun 24, 2021 at 7:47

1 Answer 1


The matching you're looking for in this case is via SequenceCases, I think, which represents a subsequence to match as a list—so, for example, SequenceCases[{a,a,b,c,b}, {_,b}] extracts {{a,b}, {c,b}}.

But, you can also wrap your pattern in a rule which will match the lhs and replace it with the rhs. The standard way to implement "matching environments" like look-aheads and look-behinds in Mathematica (as far as I'm aware) is to use a rule of the form {preceding : <patt0>, p : <extractedpatt>, following : <patt1>} :> p. This essentially matches the full sequence (including the look ahead/behind pattern) and then replaces it with what's in the middle.

SequenceCases also requires that the head of the to-be-extracted-from expression is List. So:

SequenceCases[List @@ H[<...>],
    {l0, p : PatternSequence[h1[___],h2[h21[],___]], h3[_,h32[__]]} :> {p}]

This should give a list of subsequences that are matched enclosed by List, i.e. something like {{h1[<...>], h2[h21[],<...>]}, {h1[<...>], h2[h21[],<...>]}, <...>}.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot! I've used SequenceCases before, but it didn't occur to me that it could be used as such. I come to realize that the patterns of MMA is as expressive for S-exprs as regex is for strings (which must have been obvious for a wiser man). $\endgroup$
    – Gravifer
    Jun 25, 2021 at 0:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Btw I'm a little unsatisfied with WRI's naming. Maybe it would be more accurate to tern SequenceCases[] and related functions as Splice*[], as they require wrapping the actual pattern with {} and only works with Lists, conforming to the syntax and semantics of Splice. $\endgroup$
    – Gravifer
    Jun 25, 2021 at 0:10

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