The Many Faces of Google

Contents | Query Input | Understanding Results | Special Tools | Links
Entering Queries - Selecting Search Terms - Interpreting Queries - Crafting Queries - Google's  Advanced Search Form - More on Sharpening Queries - Using Search Operators (Advanced)

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Crafting Your Query by using Special Characters

By using special characters and operators, such as +, -, ~, .., OR, and quotation marks, you can fine-tune your search query and increase the accuracy of its results.

To search for a phrase, a proper name, or a set of words in a specific order, put them in double quotes.

A query with terms in quotes finds pages containing the exact quoted phrase. For example, [  "Larry Page>" ] finds pages containing exactly the phrase "Larry Page." So this query would find pages mentioning Google's co-founder Larry Page, but not pages containing "Larry has a home page" or "Congressional page Larry Smith." The query [ Larry Page ] (without quotes) would find pages containing any of "Larry Page," "Larry has a home page," or "Congressional page Larry Smith."

A quoted phrase is the most widely used type of special search syntax.

[ "Chickery chick, cha-la cha-la" ]
[ "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" ]

Use quotes to enter proper names.

[ "Sojourner Truth" ]
[ "Rio de Janeiro" ]

Google will search for common words (stop words) included in quotes, which it would otherwise ignore.

USE [ "to be or not to be" ]  NOT [ to be or not to be ]
USE [ "how to change oil" ]  NOT [ how to change oil ]

Note: Google doesn't perform automatic stemming (i.e., searching for pages that match variants of any of your search terms, described in the previous section Interpret Your Query) on phrases.. For example, if you want to see pages that mention only one favorite book rather than lists of multiple favorite books, enclose your search terms in quotes.

Force Google to include a term by preceding the term with a "+" sign.

To force Google to search for a particular term, put a + sign operator in front of the word in the query. Note that you should not put a space between the + and the word, i.e. USE [ +The Beatles ] NOT [ + The Beatles ].

The + operator is typically used in front of stop words that Google would otherwise ignore or when you want Google to return only those pages that match your search terms exactly. However, the + operator can be used on any term.

Google excludes common words in English and in other languages, such as "la" (which means "the" in Spanish) and "de" (which means "of" in French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese). So if Google ignores a term critical to your search, e.g.:

USE [ Wilmington +DE ] NOT [ Wilmington DE ]

The query [ Wilmington DE ] would find Wilmington, NC, Wilmington, MA and several others in addition to Wilmington, DE (Delaware)

Disable automatic stemming, i.e., searching for pages that match variants of your search term(s), by preceding each term that you want to be matched exactly with the + operator. For example, if you want to see only pages mentioning one favorite book rather than lists of favorite books, precede the word "book" by a + sign like this: favorite +book ]

Precede each term you do not want to appear in any result with a "-" sign.

To find pages without a particular term, put a - sign operator in front of the word in the query. The - sign indicates that you want to subtract or exclude pages that contain a specific term. Do not put a space between the - and the word, i.e. [ dolphins -football ] not [ dolphins  - football ].

So, to search for twins groups in Minnesota, but not return pages relating to the Minnesota Twins baseball team: USE [ twins group Minnesota -baseball ] NOT [ twins group Minnesota ]

No pages containing the word "baseball" will be returned by the first query.

Find synonyms by preceding the term with a ~, which is known as the tilde or synonym operator.

The tilde (~) operator takes the word immediately following it and searches both for that specific word and for the word's synonyms. It also searches for the term with alternative endings. The tilde operator works best when applied to general terms and terms with many synonyms. As with the + and - operators, put the ~ (tilde) next to the word, with no spaces between the ~ and its associated word, i.e., [ ~cheap laptop ] not [ ~ cheap laptop ].

Thus: [ ~inexpensive ] matches "inexpensive," "discount," "cheap," "affordable," and "low cost"
and    [~run ] matches "run," "runner's," "running," as well as "marathon"

Are you looking for a guide, help, tutorial, or tips on playing Scrabble? Try [ Scrabble ~guide ]
Are you Interested in food facts as well as nutrition and cooking information? Try ~food ~facts ]

If you don't like the synonyms that Google suggests when you use the ~ operator, specify your own synonyms with the OR operator, which is described next.

Specify synonyms or alternative forms with an uppercase OR or | (vertical bar).

The OR operator, which you may abbreviate with | (vertical bar), applies to the search terms immediately adjacent to it. [ Tahiti OR Hawaii ] or [ Tahiti | Hawaii ] will find pages that include either "Tahiti" or "Hawaii" or both terms, but not pages that contain neither "Tahiti" nor "Hawaii."

Note: If you write OR with a lowercase "o" or a lowercase "r," Google interprets the word as a search term instead of an operator.

Use quotes (" ") to group compound words and phrases together.

[ "Hawaii" OR "New Zealand" holiday package ]
[ filter OR stop "junk e-mail" OR spam ]

Specify results containing numbers in a range by specifying two numbers, separated by two periods, with no spaces.

For example, specify that you are searching in the price range $50 to $100 using the number range specification $50..$100

[ digital camera $250..$400 ] will return pages with information about digital cameras priced between $250 and $400.

Use an * (asterisk), known as a wildcard, to match any word in a phrase (enclosed in quotes).

Each * represents just one word. Google treats the * as a placeholder for a word. For example, [ "Google * my life" ] tells Google to find pages containing a phrase that starts with "Google" followed by a word, followed by "my life." Phrases that fit the bill include:

When you know only part of the phrase you wish to find, consider using the * operator. To find the title of Frank Herbert's book about Arakkis and the sand worms use [ "* of Dune" ]

You can use the symbol * to search for terms that are a specified number of words from each other on any page (see below for examples specifying the number of words). This type of searching, known as proximity searching, is great when you know the start and end of a title or quote, but are unsure of the words in between. By trying each of these searches you will find the answer:

Proximity searching can be useful when you want to find pages that include someone's name in any of the following orders: first middle last, last first middle, first last, last first. To search for "Francis" adjacent or separated one word from "Coppola," requires four queries:

Note: You can get around Google's 10-word limit on the number of words in your query by substituting an * in place of each stop word or common word in your query. Wildcards are not counted.

This table summarizes how to use the basic search operators described in this lesson. You may include any of these operators multiple times in a query.

Notation Find result Example
terms1 terms2 with both term1 and term2 [ carry-on luggage ]
term1 OR term2
term1 | term2
with either term1 or term2 or both [ Tahiti OR Hawaii ]
[ Tahiti | Hawaii ]
+term with term (The + operator is typically used in front of stop words that Google would otherwise ignore or when you want Google to return only pages that match your search terms exactly. However, the + operator can be used on any terms.) [ +i spy ]
-term without term [ dolphins -football ]
~term with term or one of its synonyms
(currently supported on Web and Directory search)
[ food ~facts ]
number1..number2 with a number in the specified range
[ digital camera $250..$400 ]
"phrase"  with the exact phrase, a proper name, or a set of words in a specific order [ "I have a dream" ]
[ "Rio de Janeiro" ]
"terms1 * terms2" with the phrase (enclosed in quotes) and * replaced by any single word [ "Google * my life" ]

Queries that use Google's special notation may also be entered by using Google's Advanced Search, which we'll look at next.

Some examples of Google Queries: Exercises

This problem set is designed to give you practice in refining your queries and in using Google's commands with special notation. For hints and answers to selected problems, see the Solutions page in the Appendix.

  1. How long before you go outside should you apply sunscreen?

  2. Find advice on writing a will.

  3. Find pages on daily life in Afghanistan that do not mention war or the Taliban.

  4. Find the terms that Google considers approximately equivalent to the term "cheap."

  5. Find today's weather forecast/condition.

  6. Find studio apartments for rent in Minneapolis or St. Paul, Minnesota.

  7. Which of the following phrases matches the query [ "Google * my life" ]?
    "Google has enriched my life"
    "Google changed my life"
    "Google runs my life"
    "Google has revolutionized my life"
    "Google: I love my life"
    "Google is my life"

  8. How do the results of the following two queries differ?
    [ "how might I" ]
    [ "how might I *" ]

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