How to Use str_replace in R (With Examples)

Spread the love

The str_replace function in R, part of the stringr package, is a pivotal string manipulation function, allowing users to replace matched patterns within strings. It is especially significant when you need to clean and preprocess textual data, be it for data analysis, visualization, or input to machine learning models. This article will elaborate extensively on how to use str_replace in R, with a plethora of examples to illustrate its diverse applications.

Basic Usage of str_replace

The basic syntax of str_replace involves three main arguments: string, pattern, and replacement. It searches for the pattern in the string and replaces the first match with the replacement.

# Load the stringr package

str_replace("The quick brown fox", "fox", "dog")
# Output: "The quick brown dog"

str_replace_all Function

While str_replace replaces the first occurrence of the matched pattern, str_replace_all replaces all occurrences of the pattern within the string.

str_replace_all("apple apple", "apple", "orange")
# Output: "orange orange"

Using Regular Expressions

str_replace accepts regular expressions (regex) as patterns, allowing complex pattern matching and replacement.

str_replace_all("The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog", "\\b\\w{4}\\b", "****")

In this example, \\b\\w{4}\\b is a regex pattern that matches any 4-letter word, and each such word is replaced by “****”.

Case Sensitivity

By default, str_replace is case-sensitive. However, it can be made case-insensitive using the regex function with the ignore_case parameter.

str_replace("APPLE pie", regex("apple", ignore_case = TRUE), "cherry")
# Output: "cherry pie"

Replacing Patterns in Vector of Strings

When working with vectors of strings, str_replace and str_replace_all operate element-wise, applying replacement on each element of the vector.

Let’s assume you have a vector of strings representing different dessert items, and you want to replace the name of the fruits in these desserts with another fruit. For example, you want to replace “apple” with “mango” and “cherry” with “blueberry”.

desserts <- c("apple pie", "banana split", "cherry tart", "apple turnover", "cherry cheesecake")
# Replacing 'apple' with 'mango' and 'cherry' with 'blueberry'
modified_desserts <- str_replace_all(desserts, c(apple = "mango", cherry = "blueberry"))

Data Frame Manipulation

When working with data frames, str_replace can be efficiently utilized to modify string columns using the dplyr package.

# Creating a sample data frame
data <- data.frame(
  text = c("apple pie", "banana split", "cherry tart"),
  stringsAsFactors = FALSE

# Load the dplyr package

# Using str_replace with mutate to replace 'apple' with 'peach'
data <- data %>%
  mutate(text = str_replace(text, "apple", "peach"))

Advanced Applications

Example: Format Conversion

str_replace can be used to convert the formats of dates, phone numbers, etc.

date_string <- "The event is on 23-10-2023"
str_replace(date_string, "(\\d+)-(\\d+)-(\\d+)", "\\3/\\2/\\1")
# Output: "The event is on 2023/10/23"

Example: Data Cleaning

str_replace is a crucial tool for data cleaning, especially in the initial stages of data analysis. Removing special characters, extra spaces, or unwanted text are common tasks.

dirty_string <- "The price is $500!!"
clean_string <- str_replace_all(dirty_string, "[$!]", "")
# Output: "The price is 500"

Escaping Special Characters

When dealing with special characters in the pattern like ‘.’, ‘^’, ‘$’, etc., which have special meaning in regex, they need to be escaped with two backslashes \\.

str_replace("3.14 is the value of pi", "\\.", ",")
# Output: "3,14 is the value of pi"


The str_replace and str_replace_all functions from the stringr package in R are invaluable assets for anyone dealing with string manipulation tasks. They provide a versatile and efficient approach to replacing substrings within strings, incorporating regular expressions, and case sensitivity options. Whether used for basic string replacements or advanced data cleaning and format conversions, these functions are foundational for effective string manipulation in R.

Posted in RTagged

Leave a Reply