In the mac os x terminal, if you type in:


you get a line with a less than sign, looks like a primitive instant messenger, It's probably not, does anyone know what it is?

3 Answers 3


What is happening is that the ' is being interpreted as the start of a single-quoted part of the command, which means that the end of line character is treated as a literal (i.e. go on to a new line; not "I'm done; execute this"). The > indicates that you are still typing the command, albeit on a different line. You will need to add another single quote to end the command.

For example, with the echo command, which merely repeats any parameters it is given to standard output:

:~ scott$ echo hello
:~ scott$ echo 'hello'
:~ scott$ echo 'hello
> on
> multiple
> lines'
:~ scott$ 

It's a continuation of the command you're entering, which can't be executed as-is because it's clearly incomplete as it has an unmatched single quote.


This means that you've started to quote something (with the opening apostrophe), so the shell doesn't execute it until you close the quote. So when you enter another apostrophe and hit return you'll pass the whole thing to the shell with the new line characters contained in the quoted string.

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