A regular expression is a string which describes a regular language by describing the structure of every string in that language. Each regular language can be recognized by a particular finite-state automaton.
There are several syntaxes and minor variations used to notate regular expression, but they generally consist of the following substructures:
ab concatenation: match a followed by b a|b alternation: match either a or b (a|b)a grouping: subvert precendence rules a* Kleene closure: match zero or more occurances of a ε epsilon (empty): match the null string
Because a regular expression is a string that describes strings, it is a meta-string. Also because of this, it needs either an extended alphabet from the strings it describes, or some concept of quoting.