How to Fix the Error “paths must precede expression: find”

In Linux, the terminal in Linux is perhaps the most powerful tool to perform any task. One of the more simple tasks that it can perform involves the “find” keyword. This is another keyword used in the terminal which allows the user to find any file on the system and even perform various actions on it. While dealing with this keyword, an error can be encountered with the statement “paths must precede expression”.

This post describes the reason for that error and the solution for fixing the error. In this post, some knowledge will be provided on the reasoning behind the error and the solution for resolving the error.

How to Resolve the Error “paths must precede expression”?

To understand how to fix any error, we need to understand what caused it first. Several reasons will invoke this problem in your system.

Reason 1: Name is Defined Before the Path

The first and most common reason that invokes this error is when the syntax of the “find” command is not followed correctly. Particularly, the name of the “file” is declared before the file’s “path”. The error is demonstrated in the snippet below:

Solution: Specify the Path First

The most obvious fix to this issue is to replace the position of the “path” and the “name” in the find expression. This way, the correct command pattern will be followed, and the error will no longer be invoked. The example for this solution is demonstrated through the command below:

$ find /home -name

Reason 2: General Syntax Problem

various syntax problems will invoke the same error. This is demonstrated in the example below where the space between the “(” and the “-name” invokes the error and is mentioned in error itself:

$ find . -name 'test' -type f -not \(-name '' -or -name '' \)

Solution: Use the Correct Syntax

The correct syntax of the “find” command is provided below:

$ find "directory_path" -name "file_name"

In this command, the “directory_path” represents the path where you want to search the file named “file_name”.

However, the “find” expression may be quite complex as in the above case. The above error statement mentions the “(-name” in its error, which implies that the error relates to the syntax. The correct command would be as shown below:

$ find . -name 'test' -type f -not \( -name '' -or -name '' \)

In this example, the syntax is fixed by simply providing space between the “( -name” which was previously invoking the error.

That’s it from this error-resolving guide!


The “paths must precede expression: find” problem is invoked when the syntax of the “find” command is not followed properly. To resolve this issue, declare the path of the file before the name of the file in the “find” command. The other way to fix this error is to read the error statement, which will explain which part of the expression has an incorrect syntax and then use the correct syntax for that keyword. This article has explained the major reasoning behind this error and also demonstrated how these errors can be resolved in your system.