Tuesday, October 26, 2010

AROUND has always been around

In a strange twist of fate, it turns out that the AROUND operator in Google search has been operational for... oh... the past 5 or 6 years.  Turns out that nobody ever bothered to write much about it.

What's odd about that is that nearly every librarian I've ever talked to about the clever uses of Google search has asked me about it...

And so today, I'm bringing it out of the closet.

AROUND is a real, working and useful search operator!


[ "Jerry Brown" AROUND(9) "tea party" ] will find you a bunch of hits illustrating the relationship between Jerry Brown (running for governor of California) and the Tea Party.  (It's strained, at best.) 

The AROUND operator is a handy trick to use when you're looking for a combination of search terms when one dominates the results, but you're interested in the relationship between two query terms. 

NOTE:  the AROUND() operator MUST BE IN CAPS.  The number sets the max distance between the two terms.  

Note also that if Google can't find anything within the limit, it will just do regular ranking of the terms without the AROUND coming into play.  

Using AROUND is especially useful when the documents are rather long (think book-length articles).    So try this operator in Google Books.... [ slavery AROUND(4) indigo ] 

Who knew?  

Do you have favorite examples where the AROUND operator helps on a difficult query? 

Search on!


  1. But on web search (which works as well as book search for your last query) [slavery indigo] gives the same top hits as [slavery AROUND(4) indigo], supporting my point that in most cases, regular google search works as well as advanced search using operators. In the Jerry Brown/tea party example, you don't get the same hits with and without AROUND, but if your goal is really to get the sense of the comments made, the two results are about equally useful.

  2. Thanks, I had no idea about this.

    It could be useful when searching for quotes, speeches or a song that's stuck in your head, but you can only think of a few words from it... EG [gathered AROUND(3) masses]


  3. I had no idea. I've been searching for something like this for years.

  4. I knew that but I forgot it. Archivarius has the same tool.
    Useful to find people with alias (aka).

    Ex : Paul "the dude" SMITH

    is relevant in google for Paul SMITH if the search is done like [paul AROUND(3) smith]

  5. An example? When you're looking for someone's name and you're not sure if a middle name exists/is listed/is abbreviated, this operator eliminates the lists where both first and last names are listed, but not within the same line.

  6. In the note you have mentioned that if Google can't find anything within the limit, it will just do regular ranking of the terms without the AROUND coming into play.

    I have used a complex search string
    site:in.linkedin.com oracle AROUND(2) migrate "chennai area " inurl:in OR inurl:pub -inurl:dir

    This string gives me normal result even though we have pages where oracle and migrate/migration words are listed within the range of 2 words. We can see other pages ranked above than what we are searching for. Could you please elaborate on how are the search results ranked?

    This operator will be really helpful if the ranking is done based on the relevancy of the keywords and operators used.

    Please let us know if we are missing out on something.

  7. Hi Daniel, just found out about this AROUND operator! I have a somewhat related question: I was just looking for a wildcard to substitute only one word in a query. I couln't remember whether one said (sorry, French) "ce n'était ni le moment, ni l'endroit", or "ce n'était ni le lieu, ni le moment" or any combination of the above (if you don't read any French: ~="it wasn't the time or the place"). Could Google consider offering such a wildcard? I don't think the AROUND operator could help much in my case, too many words... Looking forward to your thoughts!

  8. You can use the * ("star operator") to substitute for a word (or a few words in a row). You might try the query
    ["ce n'était ni le *, ni *" ] Those two stars would substitute for the variable words. Give it a try!

  9. Hi Daniel. On the proximity operator, how is it used in a query with other terms?

    Supposed I would like something like "Kansas City" "coffee shop"AROUND(10) "bad experience" -2010 Does this work

    Also, I'm assuming the use of [ ] is not syntax for use in the query?


  10. Proximity search is a vital tool for legal research, and the primary advantage of Lexis and WestLaw. I would like to see this feature added to Google Scholar.

  11. Totally agree with that last comment. Is there anything like this on Google Scholar?

  12. I don't believe there's anything like this in Scholar. I've tried various things, but nothing seems to kick in. It's certainly not documented anywhere. I'll ask around and see if I can't figure it out.

  13. Right. And it doesn't make much sense why not because the [*] and [OR] operators work, so you can more or less emulate it if you are willing to take the time to develop very clunky, long search queries. So I don't see why Google wouldn't just import the AROUND tech to Scholar.

  14. Took me 1/2 hour of solid searching for info on the WITHIN boolean operator from my LEXIS/NEXIS past to find your brilliant post. This was after attempting at regular intervals for the past 10 years! I thought Google did not offer it, but now I realise they did bring it onboard and just renamed it "AROUND".


    I thought I had lost my mind or that Google was intentionally trying to prevent me from improving my search results because their business is improved if I stumble across things I was not looking for.

    And it does make a difference. Search: ["Peter Holmes a Court" bike] produces over 8000 results. ["Peter Holmes a Court" AROUND bike] produces 1.

    Thank you again.

  15. How is this possible:

    National AROUND(1) orchestra 52.600.000 searchresults
    National AROUND(5) orchestra 81.500.000 searchresults
    National AROUND(10) orchestra 64.100.000 searchresults
    National AROUND(15) orchestra 47.000.000 searchresults

    The number of search results went down after AROUND(5), how is that possible??

  16. is the AROUND operator still around? I have my doubts.

  17. Is the AROUND operator still around? I have my doubts.

    1. Can you say WHY you have doubts? I just checked with the query [ Finland AROUND(3) Japan ] and it's working correctly.

  18. Is it possible to use the AROUND operator as part of a string such as [ Finland AROUND(10) Japan OR India OR China OR France ]?

    1. No. What you have to do is [ Finland AROUND(10) Japan OR Finland AROUND(10) India OR Finland AROUND(1) China OR Finland AROUND(10) France ] In other words, you have to break it out manually. Not the handiest, but a pretty rare use case.

  19. Is it possible to use the AROUND operator as part of a string such as (Finland AROUND(10) Japan OR India OR China OR France ]?