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The * Operator

Use *, an asterisk character, known as a wildcard, to match one or more words in a phrase (enclosed in quotes).

Each * represents just one or more words. Google treats the * as a placeholder for a word or more than one word. For example, [ Google * my life ] tells Google to find pages containing a phrase that starts with “Google” followed by one or more words, followed by “my life.” Phrases that fit the bill include: “Google changed my life,” “Google runs my life,” and “Google is my life.”

Google * my life ]

If you know there’s a date on the page you’re seeking but you don’t know its format, specify several common formats using the OR operator. For example:

California election Oct * 2003 OR 10/*/03 OR October * 2003 ]

When you know only part of the phrase you wish to find, consider using the * operator. Find the title of Sherry Russell’s book that can help you deal with the tragedies of 9/11 or losing a loved one.

Conquering the * and * of Grief ]

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:

Francis Coppola ]
Francis * Coppola ]
Coppola Francis ]
Coppola * Francis ]

If you want to search for two terms separated by no more than two words, i.e., a proximity search, you’ll need six queries. If you’re interested in running proximity searches, try out GAPS, a third-party search tool available at https://www.staggernation.com/cgi-bin/gaps.cgi.

Screen shot of GAPS form.

Note: You can get around Google’s 32-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.

USE [ All grown-ups * once children–although few * them remember * ]
NOT [ All grown-ups were once children–although few of them remember it ]

Google chose the symbol * to match one or more words because in some computer systems, such as Unix, Linux, and DOS, * stands for one or more unspecified characters. In those languages it is typically used for selecting multiple files and directories.

Note: Stemming is a technique to search on the stem or root of a word that can have multiple endings. For example, on some search engines the query bicycl* will return results that match words including bicycle, bicycles, bicycling, bicycled, and bicyclists. Google ignores asterisks (*) that are not surrounded by spaces. The query [ bicycl* ] finds documents that contain “bicycl.” Google automatically provides stemming.

If you want to search for a string with an asterisk or another special character, try using www.google.com/codesearch, Google’s Code Search Engine.

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This page was last modified on: Friday July 20, 2007

For Google tips, tricks, & how Google works, visit Google Guide at www.GoogleGuide.com. Google Guide is neither affiliated with nor endorsed by Google.

Creative Commons

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.