How to Run a Partial Search on Google

What to do when you're not sure what exactly to look up

If you need to search for something on Google but aren't quite sure which words to use, a partial search could be helpful. Knowing how to run an incomplete search like this can be helpful in effectively narrowing down the results.

Usually, when you look something up on Google, you know exactly what to type. However, what if you're looking up a name, for example, but you only know part of it? Or maybe it's a movie, or a location, or something else that has multiple parts of the term but you're not sure what one or more of those parts are.

This is where a partial search becomes helpful. Below are various ways to search Google when you're missing an important word or two.

Partial search on Google

Run a Wildcard Search

Google lets you search using wildcards, which essentially means that you can run a search with missing words. This is by far the most effective way to locate phrases when you don't have all the information.

For example, maybe you need to perform a partial name search because all you know about the person is their first and last name, but you're sure that their middle name is listed online, too. To search for what you do know, but still leave room for the middle name to show up in the results, do something like this:

"john * smith"

This will show results for all kinds of iterations of this, such as John Michael Smith, John Blair Smith, John A. Smith, etc.

Include quotation marks if you want all the search terms to be included as one phrase.

You can't use wildcards to find part of a single word; the asterisk only words for phrases. If you need to know the first part of a word, there are other search engines for that, such as OneLook.

Surround the Terms in Quotes

Another way to run a partial search on Google is to use quotes. Like you read above, quotes keep the words together to force the search engine to locate results that match exactly what you enter.

For example, maybe you're looking for lyrics and you know only a few chunks of words but nothing in a complete structure. You might run a search like this one:

"this was the year" "nothing has changed"

If you went with the alternative of not using quotes, you might find lyrics that contain most or all of those words but in different parts of the song, making it much harder to find the track you're actually looking for.

Use Boolean Search Operators

Boolean search operators provide deep customizations for your Google searches. For example, one way to run a partial search is with the minus symbol, which will eliminate from the results anything you define. This is helpful if the results are overwhelmed with things unrelated to what you're looking for; the minus sign filters out entire groups of data.

Maybe you're doing science homework and you're told to research the Amazon rainforest. Running a search for amazon information is cluttered almost entirely with information on Amazon.com. You'd be better off running a search like this:

amazon information -company -site:amazon.com

As you can see, we removed information regarding company since the Amazon rainforest isn't associated with a business, and neither is relevant rainforest information going to be found on Amazon.com, so the "site" search parameter is necessary here.

Another tip for running partial Google searches paired with Boolean operators, is to use + within the search. What this does is tracks down results that have precisely that word or phrase.

In this example, a person search for John (something) Smith is paired with Maryland to ensure that all results include not only that name but also that location.

"john * smith" +maryland

Searching without the plus sign would list millions of more results, making your search much harder than it needs to be.

Putting It All Together

Here's one last example where we can use all these partial search techniques to drill deep into Google to find exactly what we need even though we don't have all the information:

"john * smith" +maryland "february 29" "* edmondson"

Of course, a search like that will substantially reduce the results, but that's what we're after. In that example, there are less than five results.

So, if you're sure all of those things are necessary and will be found online in the same place, you'll have much better luck using all of it.