Paredit is great, it brings structural editing to lisps, maintaining the syntactical correctness of your code. I’ve been a fan for a long time, but still was only using a small subset of the functionality available, even afer spending time reading the manual and paper printing out cheat sheets.

Lately I decided to work deliberately with Paredit and really understand it, and now I mostly do. Here is what I learned.

Note: I've included my key-presses in the animations so you can see what I'm doing. However, they are shown as Mac keys, M- is ⌥, C- is ⌃, and shift is ⇧.

The basics

Balanced pairs


Paredit has four opening functions, applying to the (), [], {} and <> pairs. Paredit never lets your buffer become unbalanced, so each open function will produce a balanced pair.

  • ( -> paredit-open-round
  • [ -> paredit-open-square
  • { -> paredit-open-curly

Paredit's opening tags

Opening tags

By default, paredit-open-angle is not bound to any key.

Closing and indenting

Each of these functions has a partner in the paredit-close-[round|square|curly|angle] functions. These will move the cursor past the next closing delimiter and also indent.

Paredit's closing tags

Moving past the closing delimiter

Paredit's closing indent

And pulling the closing delimiter onto the current line

A nice feature of these functions is that they are delimiter agnostic, that means that you don't need to match the correct closing character of the pair with the opening character, any will do.


Paredit treats double quoting similarly to the opening and closing pairs of characters above. However, because the same character is used for opening and closing, there are differences.

double-quote is bound to the " key and will:

  • Insert an open and closing quote "" when the cursor is not in a quoted space,
  • Move past the closing double quote character when the cursor is at the end of a string
  • Insert an escaped quote when inside a string,

Paredit's double quote

Double quoting

Wrapping an S-expression

Paredit has variants of all of the above that open a pair and automatically wrap the following S-expression into it. These functions are named paredit-wrap-[round|square|curly|angle] and paredit-meta-doublequote.

  • paredit-wrap-round is bound to M-(
  • paredit-meta-doublequote is bound to M-"
  • The other functions are not bound to any keys by default

Paredit's wrapping openers

Wrapping an S-expression


Like the open, close and double quote keys, Paredit also takes over the default key combinations that Emacs uses for deleting:

  • paredit-forward-delete bound to C-d
  • paredit-forward-kill-word bound to M-d
  • paredit-backward-delete bound to DEL (and probably backspace too)
  • paredit-backward-kill-word bound to M-DEL
  • paredit-kill bound to C-k

These commands act just the same as the regular Emacs commands that they hijack the keys from, until you try to break the balance of your S-expressions and then they'll refuse to comply. By doing this Paredit can ensure that integrity of your code is maintained.

Paredit's forward deleting

Deleting forward by character and word

Paredit's backward deleting

Deleting backward by character and word

Paredit's backward deleting

Killing to the end of the current S-expression

This refusal to unbalance code is also, unfortunately, a great cause of pain to people that are new to Paredit and still transitioning from string based to tree based editing. And is a cause of people quitting Paredit forever. Fortunately, the solution lies below.

Slurping and Barfing

Say what now?

Slurping is when the current S-expression or string is expanded by pulling in the next outer S-expression. Barfing is the opposite, contracting the S-expression by pushing out it's last-most form.

Slurping is provided by paredit-forward-slurp-sexp, bound to C-), and barfing is provided by paredit-forward-barf-sexp that is bound to C-}.

Paredit's slurping and barfing

Slurping and barfing

Notice that these function names contain the word "forward", Paredit also gives us the ability to slurp and barf backwards with paredit-backward-slurp-sexp, bound to C-(, and paredit-backward-barf-sexp, bound to C-{.

Paredit's slurping and barfing backwards

Slurping and barfing backwards

Structural Navigation

Paredit provides functions for graceful S-expression navigation, allowing you to move forward and backward amongst siblings, raise up to the enclosing S-expression and descend back down into the children.

Move forward and backward inside an S-expression using paredit-forward and paredit-backward, bound to C-M-f and C-M-b respectively. Upon reaching a delimiter, a further invocation will move the cursor outside of the current S-expression and into the enclosing S-expression.

Paredit's forward and backwards navigation

Moving forward and backwards

Paredit offers two methods of descent and ascent, that can be used depending on the direction that you want to move.

To descend forwards use paredit-forward-down, bound to C-M-d. To reverse that and ascend backwards use paredit-backward-up, bound to C-M-u.

Paredit's forward down navigation

Descending forwards and ascending backwards

Then, when you want to descend backward you can use paredit-backward-down, bound to C-M-p. And to reverse that and ascend forwards use paredit-forward-up, bound to C-M-n.

Paredit's backward down navigation

Descending backwards and ascending forwards


Splicing is the act of removing the current S-expression and joining (some of) the contents with the enclosing S-expression. There are two splices that will kill the content of the current S-expression either to the front of rear of the cursor.

Kill backwards with paredit-splice-sexp-killing-backward, bound to M-<up>.

Paredit's splice killing backward

Splice and kill backwards

And kill forwards with paredit-splice-sexp-killing-forward that is bound to M-<down>.

Paredit's splice killing forward

Splice and kill forwards

And there is a no kill variant paredit-splice-sexp bound to M-s, shown here splicing the quotes off a string.

Paredit's splice no kill

Splice a string without killing anything

Splitting and Joining

An S-expression can be split into two, and two S-expressions can be joining back together into one.

Split is paredit-split-sexp and bound to M-S, join is paredit-join-sexps and bound to M-J. Note that the S and J are both uppercase.

Paredit's joining and splitting

Joining two printlns into one


A final treat, here is paredit-convolute-sexp and it is bound, quite appropriately, to M-?.

The description from the function docs is:

Convolute S-expressions.
Save the S-expressions preceding point and delete them.
Splice the S-expressions following point.
Wrap the enclosing list in a new list prefixed by the saved text.
With a prefix argument N, move up N lists before wrapping.

Paredit's convoluting

Convoluting an expression

I'm still waiting for the day when I recognise a use for this one.

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