There must be a better way to replace single newlines only?

You can use awk like this:

$ awk ' /^$/ { print; } /./ { printf("%s ", $0); } ' test

Or if you need an extra newline at the end:

$ awk ' /^$/ { print; } /./ { printf("%s ", $0); } END { print ""; } ' test

Or if you want to separate the paragraphs by a newline:

$ awk ' /^$/ { print "\n"; } /./ { printf("%s ", $0); } END { print ""; } ' test

These awk commands make use of actions that are guarded by patterns:




A following action is only executed if the pattern matches the current line.

And the ^$. characters have special meaning in regular expressions, where ^ matches the beginning of line, $ the end and . an arbitrary character.

Use Awk or Perl's paragraph mode to process a file paragraph by paragraph, where paragraphs are separated by blank lines.

awk -vRS= '
  NR!=1 {print ""}      # print blank line before every record but the first
  {                     # do this for every record (i.e. paragraph):
    gsub(" *\n *"," "); # replace newlines by spaces, compressing spaces
    sub(" *$","");      # remove spaces at the end of the paragraph
perl -000 -pe '             # for every paragraph:
  print "\n" unless $.==1;  # print a blank line, except before the first paragraph
  s/ *\n *(?!$)/ /g;        # replace newlines by spaces, compressing spaces, but not at the end of the paragraph
  s/ *\n+\z/\n/             # normalize the last line end of the paragraph

Of course, since this doesn't parse the (La)TeX, it will horribly mutilate comments, verbatim environments and other special-syntax. You may want to look into DeTeX or other (La)TeX-to-text converters.

(reviving an ancient question)

This seems to be exactly what fmt and par are for - paragraph reformatting. Like you (and also like many programs) they define paragraph boundaries as one (or more) blank lines. Try piping your text through one of these.

fmt is a standard unix utility and can be found in GNU Coreutils.

par is a greatly-enhanced fmt written by Adam M. Costello which can be found at (it has also been packaged for several distributions, including debian - I packaged it for debian in Jan 1996, although there's a new maintainer for the pkg now.).