I've been using Vim for several months now via my web host (they allow putty access). All of a sudden, the escape key has become unresponsive. I cannot exist insert or any other mode by simply hitting escape. I have to hit F1 which brings up the help in vim and kicks me into command mode.

I'm most certain that my escape key on my keyboard is functioning fine since all of my windows shortcuts that use the escape key operate normally.

I know this is a ridiculous question and I'm certain there's a lot more to look into regarding a solution. What I really need is a solid lead as to where to start looking.

Things that might help:

  1. I'm using vim via putty
  2. I'm logging in using jailshell
  3. I'm not root
  • what are your terminal settings? ie what exactly is the TERM environment variable set to (in the remote shell)? Apr 11, 2010 at 21:28
  • $TERM is set to 'xterm' Apr 11, 2010 at 21:33
  • 2
    Does Ctrl-[ work? What do you get if you press Ctrl-v then escape? It should show as ^[. Apr 11, 2010 at 21:35
  • The Ctrl-[ worked. Rock on! This saves me a lot of frustration. Is there any chance you can explain why esc no longer works? Also, please post your comment as an answer so I can accept it. Apr 11, 2010 at 21:42
  • My first thought when reading this: "Oh he broke his 'Get me the heck out of here' button"
    – Daniel
    Nov 10, 2016 at 17:41

6 Answers 6


Try using Ctrl-[ instead of Esc.

What is the result of:

python -c "print ord(raw_input('char '))"

when you press Esc and Enter? It should be "27". What is the result of pressing Ctrl-V then Esc?

Have you checked all the settings in PuTTY to see if they're reasonable?

Are you using Bash on the remote system? Look at the output of

bind -p | grep -i '\\e' | less

and see if you see anything unusual. Do you have a file called ~/.inputrc? Look at its contents to see if anything is unusual.

Look at your ~/.vimrc and see if everything's OK, too.

  • 4
    Ctrl-c should end insert-mode as well (the '[' is sometime a bit tricky to get on some keyboards)
    – akira
    Jun 24, 2010 at 9:42
  • 1
    I ran the python script and it came back as an empty string. How do I fix this? I'm using putty.
    – Keith
    Apr 26, 2012 at 17:05
  • @Keith: Did you try any of the other diagnostic suggestions? Apr 26, 2012 at 17:25
  • ctrl+[ worked for me for whatever reason, no idea what i did to get my vim stuck. Dec 10, 2015 at 22:09
  • python -c "print(ord(input('char ')))" for people with python3 Nov 13, 2022 at 10:07

I had mistakenly hit Ctrl + s, and got stuck in the insert mode. To get out of it use Ctrl + q.

  • 12
    That's not insert mode that's XOFF. You can disable software flow control by doing stty -ixon (add it to your ~/.bashrc). Then that keystroke will be available to be bound to something else. By default in Bash it's bound to forward-search-history (the opposite of Ctrl-r). Ctrl-q (Bash quoted-insert) will also be available. Jul 2, 2012 at 14:18
  • @DennisWilliamson Wouldn't .bash_profile be a better place? There's no need to turn it off in non-interactive shell, is it? Mar 4, 2014 at 22:14
  • 1
    @PiotrDobrogost: "When an interactive shell that is not a login shell is started, Bash reads and executes commands from ~/.bashrc, if that file exists." .bash_profile is only executed when Bash is a login shell. "So, typically, your ~/.bash_profile contains the line if [ -f ~/.bashrc ]; then . ~/.bashrc; fi" Mar 4, 2014 at 22:22
  • @DennisWilliamson You are right. What I meant to say is that there's probably sense to disable software flow control only in interactive shells. If this is true then subsequently it would make sense to find a way to tell if a shell is interactive and disable software flow control only in this case. Mar 5, 2014 at 20:01
  • @PiotrDobrogost: See my answer to "How can I check in bash if a shell is running in interactive mode?" Mar 5, 2014 at 20:19

Maybe you are using the insert mode.

'insertmode' 'im' 'noinsertmode' 'noim'
boolean (default off)
Makes Vim work in a way that Insert mode is the default mode. Useful if you want to use Vim as a modeless editor. Used for |evim|.
- Use CTRL-O to execute one Normal mode command |i_CTRL-O|). When this is a mapping, it is executed as if 'insertmode' was off. Normal mode remains active until the mapping is finished. - Use CTRL-L to execute a number of Normal mode commands, then use Esc to get back to Insert mode. Note that CTRL-L moves the cursor left, like does when 'insertmode' isn't set. |i_CTRL-L|

I suggest editing ~/.vimrc to add the following line:

set noinsertmode         "disable insert mode
  • 1
    In my case it stuck in insert mode because i had accidentally used ` -y ` in commandline As said in manual: -y Start Vim in easy mode, just like the executable was called "evim" or "eview". Makes Vim behave like a click-and-type editor. To exit this "ease mode" just use <kbd>CTRL</kbd> + <kbd>l</kbd> (L lowercase) as said by +SandRock
    – ton
    Jan 22, 2018 at 13:06
  • I accidently entered :set insertmode CTRL-L got me out of it.
    – ZaSter
    Nov 3, 2020 at 19:37
  • I changed a command line from diff -y (side-by-side) to vimdiff -y and then wondered what was going on. Nov 12, 2021 at 14:25

Find a strange way to quit:

copy some thing and paste it, then you can use <esc> or <ctrl-c> or <ctrl-[> to quit

see gif: https://i.stack.imgur.com/NBnns.gif

  • I had one vim session in a tmux pane start acting weirdly after accessing it via SSH from Windows - everything else, including other vim sessions in the same tmux session, were totally fine. ctrl+c etc. didn't work, but this did.
    – polm23
    Nov 23, 2022 at 4:14
  • This is the only solution that worked for me. All the others didn't. I'm using iterm2, mosh, and tmux. Not sure if that matters.
    – Catskul
    Sep 7, 2023 at 23:09

I had this problem, but realized it was from accidentally changing the SCIM input mode to "Other - RAW CODE". I changed it back to English/Keyboard and did not have any more problems.

  • While it wasn't SCIM for me, I had the same problem and it was fixed by launching the Gnome Language Settings dialog, which detected something wasn't installed correctly. After fixing that and rebooting my escape key worked again.
    – Haegin
    Mar 24, 2022 at 14:30

The top answer didn't work for me here and even ctrl + c couldn't get me out. If yours is as stuck as mine, here's what worked for me:

  1. Closed the current stuck terminal.
  2. Reconnected with a new terminal.
  3. Opened the file with Vim
  4. Got a notice that it was already being edited.
  5. It gave me the option of R for recovery which I chose.
  6. Back into vim for the file without issue.
  • Ctrl+S then :q! worked for me. Not sure what happened. Nov 30, 2023 at 10:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .