How to Search a PDF

3 ways to find a word or phrase in a PDF

Graphic of magnifying glass


There are several ways to search for a word or phrase in a PDF, depending on the application you are using to view it. The most common way to view a PDF is through a web browser like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge. Even if the PDF is located on your computer rather than the web, it will often open in your default browser. Things are a little different for Mac users, who will find a PDF on their Mac to open in Preview, a handy app quite capable of previewing most files.

Most options also allow some form of advanced search such as case sensitive of whole word match. If you need to search for a word in the PDF and your browser doesn't support whole word match, simply put a space at the beginning or the end of the search phrase.

How to Search a PDF Using Your Web Browser

PDF in the Chrome browser

Whether you use Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox or even Internet Explorer, searching a PDF for a particular word or phrase is quite simple. Most web browsers open a PDF in a reader within the browser.

Search using the Find keyboard shortcut. On a Windows computer, use Ctrl+F. On a Mac, it is Command+F.

  • Google Chrome has a simple find interface with up-and-down buttons to find the next match or the previous match and an X button to close the search window.
  • Microsoft Edge opens a bar across the top. In addition to left and right buttons that Find Next and Find Previous, you can click the Options button to match whole words, which means day won't match with today. You can also choose a case-sensitive search.
  • Apple's Safari browser has left and right buttons to perform Find Next and Find Previous.
  • Mozilla Firefox's search bar will appear at the bottom of the screen. In addition to up and down buttons for Find Next and Find Previous, you can Match Case, find Whole Words and Highlight All if you want every matching phrase to be highlighted.
  • Internet Explorer displays a small window with left and right buttons for Find Next and Find Previous. Of special note is the black down button. This button will open a menu for case sensitive searches, whole word searches or Full Reader Search, which creates an index for every matched word or phrase.

How to Search a PDF Using Adobe Reader

Adobe Reader

Most PDFs on Windows-based PCs open in a web browser by default, but if you have Adobe Reader installed, it may open in the reader.

Adobe Reader uses the same interface as Internet Explorer. Or, perhaps more accurately, Internet Explorer borrows Reader's interface. Begin a search by using Ctrl+F (or Command+F on a Mac) and use the left and right arrows to find the previous or next match. The down arrow provides a menu with Whole Word search, Case Sensitive search and Full Reader Search, which creates an index of all matches.

How to Search a PDF Using Mac's Preview App

macOS Preview app

If you double-click a PDF on your Mac, it opens in the Preview app by default.

The search bar in the top-right corner is always present in Preview, but the Command+F shortcut still works and will place your cursor in the search bar. After you search, an index of all found words or phrases will appear on the left side of the screen. All found results are highlighted in Preview, with the current found phrase highlighted in green rather than yellow.

Toggle through the matches by clicking the left and right arrows at the top of the screen for Find Previous and Find Next.