strsplit() Function in R

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In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss the strsplit() function in detail: its syntax, how to use it, its different parameters, as well as use-cases and practical examples. Let’s dive in.

What is strsplit()?

The strsplit() function is an in-built R function designed to split strings into substrings based on a specified delimiter.This function has a wide range of applications and is especially useful in data preprocessing, where data often needs to be parsed or divided for further analysis.

strsplit() Syntax

Before we can discuss how to use strsplit(), it is important to understand its syntax:

strsplit(x, split, fixed = FALSE, perl = FALSE, useBytes = FALSE)
  • x: a character vector of strings that you wish to split.
  • split: a character vector containing regular expression(s) to use for splitting x. If split has length greater than 1, it is assumed to specify character delimiters for different fields.
  • fixed: if TRUE, split will be interpreted as a string, not as a regular expression.
  • perl: if TRUE, the regular expression matching will be performed using Perl-compatible regex implementation via the PCRE library.
  • useBytes: if TRUE, the matching is done byte-by-byte rather than character-by-character.

Basic Usage

The strsplit() function is straightforward to use. All it requires is a string and a delimiter to split that string. The function will then return a list of strings split based on the provided delimiter. Here’s a simple example:

string <- "Hello, world!"
split_string <- strsplit(string, split = ", ")

This will output:

[1] "Hello" "world!"

In this case, the strsplit() function splits the string “Hello, world!” into two separate strings: “Hello” and “world!” using “, ” as the delimiter.

Using Regular Expressions

The split parameter in strsplit() function can take regular expressions, which can be incredibly useful when dealing with more complex string-splitting scenarios.For example, you may want to split a string wherever there’s a number. This can be done using a regular expression as shown:

string <- "I have12 apples and 3 oranges"
split_string <- strsplit(string, split = "[0-9]+")

The output will be:

[1] "I have" " apples and " " oranges"

In the above example, the strsplit() function splits the string at each point where a one or more numbers were found.

Dealing with Multiple Strings

The strsplit() function is capable of handling vectors of strings. When provided with a character vector, the function will split all the strings in the vector based on the specified delimiter:

strings <- c("Hello, world!", "How are you?")
split_strings <- strsplit(strings, split = ", ")

This will output:

[1] "Hello" "world!"

[1] "How are you?"

As shown in the output, the strsplit() function splits each string in the vector separately and returns a list of character vectors.

Working with the Resulting List

Since strsplit() returns a list of character vectors, you might need to manipulate or access elements of these vectors for further analysis.To access an element from the list, you can use double square brackets [[]]:

string <- "Hello, world!"
split_string <- strsplit(string, split = ", ")

This will output:

[1] "Hello"

You can also convert the list back into a vector using the unlist() function:

string <- "Hello, world!"
split_string <- strsplit(string, split = ", ")
vector <- unlist(split_string)

This will output:

[1] "Hello" "world!"


The strsplit() function is versatile and can be applied in various contexts, from simple data cleaning tasks to complex natural language processing.For example, it can be used to:

  • Parse data from a CSV file or other text files with specified delimiters.
  • Extract specific patterns from a string (e.g., numbers, emails, URLs, etc.).
  • Split sentences into individual words for text mining or sentiment analysis.

In these use-cases, the strsplit() function serves as an essential tool to transform and preprocess the data to a suitable format that can be easily analyzed.


In this article, we have extensively covered the strsplit() function in R. We have discussed its syntax, how to use it, and explored different scenarios and use-cases. This function is an invaluable tool for string manipulation and plays a crucial role in data preprocessing in R.

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