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Spelling Corrections and Suggestions

Not sure how to spell something? Don’t worry, try gessing or speling any way you can. In just the first few months on the job, Google engineer Noam Shazeer developed a spelling correction (suggestion) system based on what other users have entered. The system automatically checks whether you are using the most common spelling of each word in your query.

(We used to suggest that you search Google for phonitick spewling. But so many Web pages added the same example that now — or, at least, when we last checked — Google no longer treats those “words” as incorrectly spelled! Google’s system doesn’t match words against an actual dictionary; it compares them to commonly-used words.)

Want to know the approximate value of a used car? Check out its “Blue Book” value.

Google search box with [ blu book ].  

Notice that Google suggests the correct spelling if you fail to type the final “e” in “blue.

Google suggests an alternative more common spelling.

Since an alternative spelling is more common, Google asks: Did you mean: blue book. Click the suggested spelling link to launch a new search on the “blue book” spelling instead of the original “blu book.

Google’s checker is particularly good at recognizing frequently made typos, misspellings, and misconceptions. It analyzes all terms in your query to recognize what you most likely intended to enter. For example, when you search for [ untied stats ], the spelling checker suggests Did you mean: united states. although each individual word is spelled correctly.

Regardless of whether it suggests an alternative spelling, Google returns results that match your query if there are any. If there aren’t any that match your query, Google may offer an alternative spelling, search tips, and a link to Google Answers. The last is a service that provides assistance from expert online researchers for a fee.

If no results match your query, Google offers search tips.

Google figures out possible misspellings and their likely correct spellings by using words it finds while searching the web and processing user queries. So, unlike many spelling correctors, Google can suggest common spellings for:

  • Proper nouns (names and places)
  • Words that may not appear in a dictionary

People searching for Britney Spears have clearly found the spelling checker useful, as it has corrected spellings of her first name ranging from “Brittany” to “Prietny.” Visit www.google.com/jobs/britney.html to see hundreds of other ways people have misspelled her name.

Be aware that the spelling checker isn’t able to distinguish between a variant spelling and a word or name that is spelled similarly. So, before clicking on what Google suggests, check that it’s what you intended. For example, when looking up the San Francisco Bay Area web designer Mistrale, Google asks: Did you mean: Mistral, though I spelled the name correctly.

Screen shot showing how Google makes a suggestion though I spelled the term correctly.

Exercises

The first problem gives you practice in using Google’s spelling-correction system. For hints and answers to selected problems, see the Solutions page.

  1. On National Public Radio (NPR), you heard a researcher at Stanford University whose name sounded like Jeff Naumberg and want to send him email. What is Jeff’s email address?
  2. From Google’s home page, www.google.com, search for “french military victories” and then click on the I’m Feeling Lucky button to see Albino Blacksheep’s parody of a Google spelling correction result.

    Note: Though the page looks like a Google page, if you enter another query in the search box, it will be processed by the hosting site, listed in your browser’s address box.

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This page was last modified on: Tuesday March 13, 2007

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By Nancy Blachman and Jerry Peek who aren't Google employees. For permission to copy & create derivative works, visit Google Guide's Creative Commons License webpage.

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