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33.1.2 Word Designators

Word designators are used to select desired words from the event. A ‘:’ separates the event specification from the word designator. It may be omitted if the word designator begins with a ‘^’, ‘$’, ‘*’, ‘-’, or ‘%’. Words are numbered from the beginning of the line, with the first word being denoted by 0 (zero). Words are inserted into the current line separated by single spaces.

For example,

designates the preceding command. When you type this, the preceding command is repeated in toto.
designates the last argument of the preceding command. This may be shortened to !$.
designates the second argument of the most recent command starting with the letters fi.

Here are the word designators:

0 (zero)
The 0th word. For many applications, this is the command word.
The nth word.
The first argument; that is, word 1.
The last argument.
The word matched by the most recent ‘?string?’ search.
A range of words; ‘-y’ abbreviates ‘0-y’.
All of the words, except the 0th. This is a synonym for ‘1-$’. It is not an error to use ‘*’ if there is just one word in the event; the empty string is returned in that case.
Abbreviates ‘x-$
Abbreviates ‘x-$’ like ‘x*’, but omits the last word.

If a word designator is supplied without an event specification, the previous command is used as the event.