The following behaves the same in Fedora and CentOS.

cd mydirectory


cd notadirectory

works (gets an error from Bash).


cd `

gives me some sort of prompt:


Nothing I've thought to enter gives any response, it merely heads to the next line to prompt again. I simply use CTRL+C to exit back to my root@localhost.

What is the purpose of this and what can one do with it?



4 Answers 4


What you've typed is a backtick - it is the start of an instruction to bash to evaluate what you type as a command. The > is displayed to indicate you are still entering the command on the next line.

If you close the backtick you'll find the whole command will run. E.g.

~$ cd `
> echo /var`
  • 17
    You can even nest them. For a somewhat realistic example: cd `dirname \`which ls\`` = cd to the directory where the "ls" binary is located. (i.e. cd /bin since it's /bin/ls) [edit: phew, escaping that markdown is HARD]
    – MSalters
    Apr 26, 2017 at 8:19
  • 54
    @MSalters You've perhaps stumbled upon the reason why modern bash prefers $() to ``. Your example (plus the correct quoting) would become cd "$(dirname "$(which ls)")" which is much less insane.
    – Muzer
    Apr 26, 2017 at 9:20
  • 31
    @Muzer It's not just bash that prefers it, but it's recommended in the POSIX specification to use $() over backquotes.
    – Starfish
    Apr 26, 2017 at 17:24

JohnC's answer already explains the backtick. But what you are also wondering about is the > prompt. This a continuation prompt, and it is not only triggered by a backtick, but always when your shell clearly knows you're not done entering a command. The easiest example is putting an explicit line continuation \ at the end of an input line (which helps splitting long input):

$ echo \
> hallo

Note that just like PS1 controls the command prompt's look, you can also set PS2 to change the continuation prompt, e.g.

$ export PS2="(cont.) "
$ echo \
(cont.) hallo

There are many reasons for the continuation to occur. A single backtick is incomplete, but you could also enter something like

ls -l `which cp`

in a single line (side-note: It's recommended to use $( and ) instead, since the parentheses make it obvious where the expansion starts and ends, while single backticks make it more difficult to see where one's missing. And nesting...). Other possible reasons for a continuation prompt:

  • a missing done after while or for
  • a missing fi after an if
  • a missing esac after case
  • a missing closing parenthesis, e.g. in subshells (cd $HOME; cat .bashrc)
  • a missing command after piping | as well as conditional execution || and && (not & though, since that's just making the command running in background)
  • a missing closing quote (' or ")

Curiously enough, a missing brace } after a variable expansion ${ also causes a continuation prompt, but will fail due to the inserted space:

$ echo ${
> PS2}
bash: ${
PS2}: bad substitution
  • 2
    And the same thing happens when using quotes :) Apr 26, 2017 at 9:20
  • 1
    I already knew the answer to this question when I saw it in the sidebar but I wanted to give you an extra, albeit, imaginary +1 for a very nice in-depth answer. This is the sort of content that makes the StackExchange sites awesome. So... Thanks and keep being awesome.
    – Unkwntech
    Apr 27, 2017 at 0:43

It means that your command is not complete yet. In fact, the character backtick, `, is used to delimit an inline command.


cd /tmp # Go to /tmp
pwd # Prints the current working  directory
ls `pwd` # Lists the content of the current working directory

The backtick starts/ends command substitution. The shell reads the command inside the backticks, interprets the results, and places those results into the command. E.g:. ls which cp results in the "which cp" being executed and the result of that command, i.e, /bin/cp will be used as the argument to the ls command. This behavior is, however, deprecated, in favor of the more explicit and readable $(cmd) command substitution.

When typing cd ` The shell is expecting a command to be executed to follow, and, to be close with a backtick.

In the case of the variable expansion using braces the shell presents the continuation prompt because those braces are lexically evaluated before the expansion is done.

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