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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," "Larry E. 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."

[ "Larry Page" ]
[ Larry Page ]

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

[ "close your eyes and I'll kiss you" ]
[ "what you're looking for is already inside you" Anne Lamott speech ]

Use quotes to enter proper names.

[ "Julia Robinson" ]
[ "Rio de Janeiro" ]

Find recommendations by searching for pages containing lists.

[ "favorite movies" ]
[ "best non-fiction books" ]

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 ]

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

[ "favorite book" ]

Some teachers use quoted phrases to detect plagiarism. They copy a few unique and specific phrases into the Google search box, surround them with quotes, and see if any results are too similar to their student's supposedly original work. Find ways to detect and prevent plagiarism.

[ "ways to detect plagiarism" ]
[ "how to detect plagiarism" ]

You may include more than one quoted string in a query. All quoted query phrases must appear on a result page; the implied AND works on both individual words and quoted phrases. The following search would find pages containing both of the phrases "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham":

[ "The Cat in the Hat" "Green Eggs and Ham"  ]

Note: In the section Using Search Operators, you'll learn how to find a page by specifying its title.

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. So, to search for the satirical newspaper The Onion, use [ +The Onion ], not [ + The Onion ].

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.

Want to learn about Star Wars Episode One? "I" is a stop word and is not included in a search unless you precede it with a + sign.

USE [ Star Wars +I ]
NOT [ Star Wars I ]

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., LA (common abbreviation for Los Angeles), put a + sign in front of it.

USE [ jobs in central +LA California ]
NOT [ jobs in central LA California ]

The query [ jobs in central LA California ] finds jobs in central California, since the term "LA" is ignored because it's a stop word. Central California is at least a hundred miles (160 km) from central Los Angeles.

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.

[ favorite +book ]

Google will search for "favourite" as well as "favorite." To prevent this, precede the word "favorite" by a + sign.

[ +favorite +book ]

What if you're looking for a string that contains a "+" sign? Though the character has special meaning, Google gives special attention to very common terms that include it, e.g., C++ (the name of a widely used computer language).

[ C++ ]

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., use [ dolphins -football ] not [ dolphins  - football ].

So, to search for a twins support group in Minnesota, but not return pages relating to the Minnesota Twins baseball team:

USE [ twins support group Minnesota -baseball ]
NOT [ twins support group Minnesota ]

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

Find pages on "salsa" but not the dance nor dance classes.

USE [ salsa -dance -class ]
NOT [ salsa ]

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., [ ~lightweight laptop ] not [ ~ lightweight laptop ].

Why did Google use tilde? In math, the "~" symbol means "is similar to". The tilde tells Google to search for pages that are synonyms or similar to the term that follows.

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

Looking for a guide, help, tutorial, or tips on using Google?

google ~guide ]

Interested in food facts as well as nutrition and cooking information?

[ ~food ~facts ]

The tilde operator works best when applied to general terms and terms with many synonyms.

[ ~cockroach ]

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

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

The OR operator, for which you may also use | (vertical bar), applies to the search terms immediately adjacent to it. The first and second examples will find pages that include either "Tahiti" or "Hawaii" or both terms, but not pages that contain neither "Tahiti" nor "Hawaii." The third and fourth examples will find pages that contain any one, two, or all three of the terms "blouse," "shirt," and "chemise."

[ Tahiti OR Hawaii ]
[ Tahiti | Hawaii ]

[ blouse OR shirt OR chemise ]
[ blouse | shirt | chemise ]

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.

Note: Unlike OR, a | (vertical bar) need not be surrounded by spaces.

[ bicycle|cycle ]

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

[ filter OR stop "junk email" OR spam ]
[ "New Zealand" OR "Ivory Coast" holiday OR vacation package ]

Specify that results contain 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 $250 to $1000 using the number range specification $250..$1000.

recumbent bicycle $250..$1000 ]

Find the year the Russian Revolution took place.

Russian Revolution 1800..2000 ]

This table summarizes how to use the basic search operators, described on this page. 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 [ twins minnesota -baseball ]
~term with term or one of its synonyms
(currently supported on Web and Directory search)
[ google ~guide ]
number1..number2 with a number in the specified range
annual report 2000..2003 ]
"phrase"  with the exact phrase, a proper name, or a set of words in a specific order [ "I have a dream" ]
[ "Rio de Janeiro" ]

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

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. Find the Google "cheat sheet" that lists search operators and services.

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

  3. Find advice on writing a will.

  4. Search for your own name. Does Google find any references to you or a namesake?

    See if there is any difference in your results if you type a period (.) between your names rather than enclosing your name in quotes and if you just enter the opening quote, i.e., compare the results from [ Nancy.Blachman ], [ "Nancy Blachman" ], and [ "Nancy Blachman ].

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

  6. What is the history of the McIntosh Apple (the fruit), not the computer?

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

  8. Find the terms that Google considers approximately equivalent to the term "volunteer."

  9. Find today's weather forecast/condition.

  10. Find recipes for zucchini, also known as courgette in the UK and France.

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

  12. Find Iranian restaurants in New Jersey and New York.

  13. Why does the query [ "the who" ] give more priority to results about the rock band The Who than the query [ the who ] but return significantly fewer results?

This page was last modified on Monday February 27, 2006.


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