How to Search Using Wildcards in Google

Here's how to fill in the blanks in a Google search

Wildcards are placeholders. In a nutshell, Google wildcard searches use the asterisk * as a substitute for a whole word or words in search phrases. 

  • how to * in business without really trying

In most search engines, you can substitute a character as a stand-in for any word or letter in a search phrase. This is known as a wildcard. Wildcard searches in Google are essentially the same, minus the single-letter substitutions. 

Single Letter Searches Are Out

Some older and alternative search engines let you substitute asterisks for single letters within search phrases, so you could search for heat* and find "heated," "heating," and "heats." Google does not support this type of single-letter search. However, Google automatically does something similar each time you search. Google uses stemming technology to find variations of each word in your search, so searching for diet automatically finds variations such as "dietary" and "diets." The suggestion engine also suggests searches based on spelling variations and commonly misspelled words, so there's no need to put an asterisk in place of a missing letter if you aren't sure how to spell something. 

Whole Words Are In

Google search results using a wildcard

To find a missing word in a phrase, simply substitute an asterisk. For example,

  • a funny * happened on the * to the *
  • Coca-Cola was invented by *
  • It's a * life for me

You can search for phrases with or without quotation marks, but using quotation marks is often more effective than leaving them off. Quotation marks force Google to find the exact phrase within the quotes, except for the wildcard word.

You can use wildcard words to complete a phrase when you know almost all the words, such as The quality of * is not strained, or A penny * is a penny earned. You can also use searches to find variations of common phrases: the devil is in the * or what a piece of work is *.

Using More Than One Asterisk

You can use as many asterisks in a search phrase as you'd like. Remember, remember the * of *. You can also use more than one asterisk if you'd like to have more than one wildcard in a row. Just make sure you put a space between each asterisk. What a * * * is man. Of course, the more words you're able to supply in your search phrase, the more likely you are to find what you're searching for. Google is pretty magical, but it can't read minds.

Google Search Suggestions

For a lot of whole-word wildcard searches, Google automatically suggests common searches that might meet the criteria before you've even finished typing. There are even a few memes and games built around the idea of Google's suggestions.