Many users probably don’t realize to what extent the common editing commands (and, in particular, with regard to the topic of this page, isearch commands) can be used in the MiniBuffer. For example, suppose that you just did a query-replace to rename all instances of an Emacs Lisp variable from boohoo to voodoo. Then you notice that another variable named whatnot serves essentially the same purpose and can be merged to the same name: so you would like to change that also.

Calling up the previous command with C-x ESC ESC shows it to you in the minibuffer in this form, with the TextCursor at the end:

  (query-replace "boohoo" "voodoo" nil)

So your task is to navigate back to the boohoo string and change it, then press Enter to rerun the command.

One way would be ESC-5 ESC-b (backward word with an arg of 5), but that requires you to accurately count the number of words involved, which is not always easy to do quickly. If you notice instead that the target word starts with a unique letter, you can isearch backwards to that letter and then do a delete-word:

  C-r b ESC-d

This is even more convenient if the critical point is in the middle of the word (for example, suppose that the second var name was booloo instead of whatnot; then you want to begin by placing point on the h in order to change it to l: which is easier to do with C-r h than any other method.

You will see that the isearch prompt for the search string momentarily obscures the minibuffer text that you are trying to edit, but if you wait a second you will see it again (and you don’t have to wait if you know what keys you want to hit next).


This package enables incremental-searching on minibuffer history. This works on Emacs 20 / 21 / Meadow.

Put this code into your .emacs:

(require 'minibuf-isearch)

Then type C-r in minibuffer and you’ll be happy. (yes, I suppose!)