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I want trailing whitespace to show as ., and tabs to show as blank spaces instead of ^I. I thought the solution would be easy:

set listchars=tab:  ,trail:.
set list

but that doesn't quite work:

Error detected while processing .vimrc:
line 11:
E474: Invalid argument: listchars=tab:

I suppose I have to escape or encode the whitespace somehow, but how?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted
 set listchars=tab:\ \ ,trail:.
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Just so this is clear to anyone else: whatever the character you need to escape is, put a backslash before it, and a backslash and a space after it, before the comma. – shadowhand Apr 16 '14 at 22:15

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