I would like to ask how I can remove non-word characters from a string, but only in certain cases.

I have read this article, so I know how to get the words out of a string. My text is however a bit more complicated.

For example:

trialtext = ",,temp sp.a tiral - dump NV-A rambo.6833. 16,rgcht";

From this text, I would like to get as output:


In other words, I want so split according to spaces, commas, hyphens and dots, EXCEPT when they have letter character before and after either a hyphen or a dot (so not commas or other signs!)

This has been my most succesful trial so far:

 Except[WordCharacter, WordCharacter .. ~~ "." ~~ WordCharacter]]

{"temp sp.a tiral dump NV-A rambo.6833 16,rgcht"}

although I do not understand why - if I as for "." - it decides to also take "," and "-".

Therefore also the related question: can someone please explain to me why this

StringSplit[trialtext, Except[WordCharacter, ","]]

gives this output:

 {"temp sp.a tiral dump NV-A rambo.6833 16", "rgcht"}

while this:

StringSplit[trialtext, Except[WordCharacter, "."]]

produces this output:

{"temp", "sp", "a", "tiral", "dump", "NV", "A", "rambo", "6833", "16", "rgcht"}

Thanks a bunch!

  • $\begingroup$ It seems "." is interpreted in Except as regular expression. And "." is every character excluding newline. $\endgroup$
    – Kuba
    Oct 31, 2014 at 11:59

4 Answers 4


Regular expressions are cryptic, but they offer look-ahead and look-behind capabilities that are unavailable to regular string patterns:

split[s_] :=
  StringSplit[s, RegularExpression["( |,|(?<![[:alpha:]])[-.]|[-.](?![[:alpha:]]))+"]]

split[",,temp sp.a tiral - dump NV-A rambo.6833. 16,rgcht"]
(* {"temp", "sp.a", "tiral", "dump", "NV-A", "rambo", "6833", "16", "rgcht"} *)

This formulation respects the special rule that dots and dashes act as delimiters except when they have letters on both sides:

split["1.2.3.a.b.c   ---4-5-6-x-y-z---"]
(* {"1", "2", "3", "a.b.c", "4", "5", "6", "x-y-z"} *)

The key ingredient in this solution is the use of (?<![[:alpha:]])[-.] which can be interpreted as "a dot or dash that is not preceded by an alphabetic character". Similarly, [-.](?![[:alpha:]]) means "a dot or dash that is not followed by an alphabetic character". Look-ahead and look-behind patterns are particularly useful for this problem because they allow us to examine characters for matching purposes without considering them to be part of a delimiter itself.

trialtext = ",,temp sp.a tiral - dump NV-A rambo.6833. 16,rgcht";

StringTrim@StringSplit[trialtext, {"," | "-" | ".",
   x : PatternSequence[Except[WhitespaceCharacter] .. ~~ "." | "-" ~~LetterCharacter ..] :> x}]
(* {"temp", "sp.a", "tiral", "dump", "NV-A", "rambo", "6833", "16", "rgcht"} *)

As of version 10.1 there is TextWords that will achieve this for you easily

TextWords[",,temp sp.a tiral - dump NV-A rambo.6833. 16,rgcht"]
(*{"temp", "sp.a", "tiral", "dump", "NV-A", "rambo.6833", "16,rgcht"}*)

Note that the implementation of the function is available to you with


It relies on a bunch of stuff from the NaturalLanguageProcessing package that rumour has it will be opened up more in Mathematica 11.


Using TextCases (new in 10.2)

Listings of the many content types

TextCases content types

str = ",,temp Naples sp.a tiral - dump NV-A rambo.6833. 16,rgcht, Rome,Denmark";

TextCases[str, "Word"]

{"temp", "Naples", "sp.", "a", "tiral", "dump", "NV-A", "rambo", ".6833", "16", "rgcht", "Rome", "Denmark"}

TextCases[str, "City"]

{"Naples", "Rome"}

TextCases[str, {"City", "Country"}]

<|"City" -> {"Naples", "Rome"}, "Country" -> {"Denmark"}|>

TextCases[str, "Word"] == TextWords[str]



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