How To: Count Letters, Words, and Lines

Today’s article isn’t going to be all that interesting unless you happen to want to know how to count letters, words, and lines in a file. If you’re worried about publication length, a student, or perhaps a journalist, this might be the article for you.

For everyone else? Well, you can read this as a curiosity. It’s one of the neat things you can do with your Linux terminal, but probably not the most interesting of things. Still, you can probably find a way to have fun counting letters (characters, really), words, and lines in the Linux terminal. Who doesn’t want to have fun in the terminal?!?

The tool we’ll be using is ‘wc’ and it will almost certainly be installed by default. The wc application will be installed by default on some of the smallest Linux distros. It’s a tool that does this:

wc – print newline, word, and byte counts for each file

That happily sums up why we’ll be using wc in this article’s exercise. It is the most appropriate tool for the job, installed by default, and remarkably easy to use. If you want to count a file’s letters, words, and lines, this is the tool for you. You can learn a lot about this very tool by checking the man page. To do that, just type:

If that doesn’t spit out some information, you don’t have wc installed and should install it. Assuming it does, and it should let’s get into the meat of the article…

Count Letters Words And Lines:

Oh yes… I mentioned the terminal in the intro. That means you’ll need an open terminal for this. It isn’t easy to word this differently in every article, but you can just press CTRL + ALT + T and your default terminal should open.

With your terminal now open,  you can first count the letters (characters) in a file. That’s nice and easy. It’s just this command:

For example, let’s use a file most of you will have:

See? Nice and simple…

Now, if you want to count the words in a file, that’s just this command:

Finally, if you want to count the number of lines in a file, you can do just that. The command is fairly obvious and looks like this:

Now, of course, there are other options with the wc command, but I’ve covered the few that you’re most likely to use. The intro had a command that will show you the man page and you should use that if you have any questions about what more the command can do.


Yeah, this is a nice and simple article. It’s only useful for those folks who want to count letters, words, and lines. There’s a subset of users who will want to know this. For instance, I ran this on a computer I don’t use that often and discovered that I’d never set up an infinite bash history file on this computer.

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Author: KGIII

Retired mathematician, residing in the mountains of Maine. I may be old and wise, but I am not infallible. Please point out any errors. And, as always, thanks again for reading.

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