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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Count Word Frequency In A Text File

Have you ever wanted to count the word frequency in a text file? Have you ever wanted to know how many times you used a word in a document? Well, with just two simple commands (grep and wc) we’re going to learn how to do just that.

As a writer, I try to avoid using the same words over and over again. It’s not just bad form, using the same words repeatedly actually makes the document more difficult to comprehend. The brain needs variety (and key concept repetition) or else it just kinda checks out and doesn’t pay much attention.

There are other times when you may want to count the number of words used in a document, perhaps as a reference. “Your honor, the document in question contained my client’s name 245 times – and none of the uses were factual!” I’m sure you can concoct a scenario where you may want this information. You can probably come up with one that doesn’t even involve a judge!

You can also use it a little more broadly, and we’ll cover that. For now, let’s make sure we’re all working on the same page. Press CTRL + ALT + T and open up your terminal, and then enter the following commands:

There. Now that we’re on the same page (you have the text file in your downloads folder) we can all work with the same list of random numbers – instead of random words. (All we care about is that there are characters.)

Count Word Frequency:

Well, you already have the terminal open and you’ve already downloaded my random numbers file. We’ll substitute numbers for words – as words are just a string of characters. So, seeing as you’re prepared…

Trust me, it won’t make a difference that we’re using numbers. By the time I’m done explaining this, you’ll understand and apply it to words (or other characters) all on your own. It’s pretty straightforward and easy to understand.

Let’s say we wanted to count the instances of 62829. The command would look like this:

If you run that command, you’ll see that that string of characters occurs just once. That’s expected and correct.

You can also do things like finding all the instances of 1 (or any single character) in the list with this command:

You can be even more complicated and find all the times a 7 immediately follows a 2. That command would look like this:

(There are three instances of 27.)

So, what’s going on? Well, you are using grep (to search) the contents of the file. You are then piping the output to wc where the number of lines (instances) are being counted.

You can probably be pretty fancy with this, but I just wanted to give a quick overview. Mostly, I figured it’s a good excuse to dig out grep and wc – and who doesn’t like panning for nuggets in text?


Yup… This one isn’t a very long (or complicated) article. That’s okay. I like articles of all shapes and sizes. This article will help you count word frequency, something we all may need at one point or another. Sure enough, Linux makes this a pretty simple task.

Thanks for reading! If you want to help, or if the site has helped you, you can donate, register to help, write an article, or buy inexpensive hosting to start your own site. If you scroll down, you can sign up for the newsletter, vote for the article, and comment.

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