It appears that interrogative words are excluded from search. This might make sense in the context of SOFU, but not on English Language and Usage.

In my case, I was looking for a question on the difference between "what" and "which", but neither of the following worked:

In my desperation, and I am not making this up, I tried searching for "beer" instead, and the top result was pretty much the question I was looking for:

Could you enable searching for interrogative pronouns, pretty please, or should I henceforth resort to looking for beer?

  • 3
    Looking for beer gets particularly difficult when you can't see straight, or even stand up.
    – James
    Commented Aug 13, 2010 at 15:24
  • 6
    It's not just interrogatives, but a whole host of stop words, so searching for "that is beer" will just get you beer. Like you, I agree that it makes some sense to remove this functionality on an English Language site, or at least allow some measure of bypassing it. Because not even the literal operators like "" or + will help.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Aug 13, 2010 at 15:28
  • 2
    Yup, I ran into this when searching for "that vs. which" questions. Commented Aug 13, 2010 at 16:53

2 Answers 2


This seems to have been implemented, to some extent; but now many questions are still unfindable, because it is impossible to search for a phrase. The latter should be implemented.

  • What do you mean with "it is impossible to search for a phrase"? (What I can't explain: the 3rd result in the first search doesn't contain "what do you mean".) Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 17:53
  • @Hendrik: What you see in the third result is what I see a lot when I search for "phrases": it just doesn't work, gives results that don't contain the required phrase. If I remember correctly (I sort of gave up on using the search function on the Stackexchange sites), the problem was even more glaring with certain phrases I tried on English.SE when I needed them. Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 19:16
  • Hmm, I do agree that it's bad that this 3rd result shows up, but it's 1 in 12, so no big deal in this case. Do you have examples where it really doesn't work? If yes, then you should definitely post a bug report! Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 19:19
  • 1
    I just searched for "what do you mean" on English Language & Usage, and it worked. But one thing is clearly broken, but I wasn't yet annoyed enough from the Meta searches: there are 11 results, but not for a single one the phrase "what do you mean" is shown and highlighted in the results list. Probably this is because only a summary of the question is shown, but it's still somewhat annoying. Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 19:23
  • @Hendrik: I suppose searching for phrases does work OK now. It could be that I assumed it didn't work because of the incorrect highlighting? It has been a while for me. Commented Sep 27, 2011 at 20:50
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    Yep, it could well be the highlighting. I think at some point I'll post a feature-request. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 8:38

This is highly upvoted, but it still is not a good idea.

These words are excluded, because they are used too often in the English language. Any search result you would get, would be tons and tons of worthless hits. That doesn't change for English Language and Usage. Your search would result in almost every post ever made there.

Maybe it works, if they index interrogative words for titles only. But even then, I expect a deluge of search results.

  • 4
    The world is not black and white. Why do these words have to be excluded completely rather than being given a smaller weight? I am not requesting that "what" is given the same weight as "beer", I am only requesting that it is given weight at all. An English Usage site that cannot be searched for "its vs it's", "which vs that" or "then vs than" is not extremely useful.
    – ЯegDwight
    Commented Aug 15, 2010 at 13:29
  • @Reg: I do not know, what black and white has to do with it. And the weight does not matter. If you search for "which" and "that", "it's" and "its", "for" and "of", you get thousands and thousands of results. It's as useful as going through every existing post by hand. Commented Aug 15, 2010 at 13:51
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    if you search SO for "Java", you get over 62,000 results. By your logic, that means that "Java" (and "PHP", "CSS", "C++",..) should be added to the list of excluded words, too. Honestly, I have no idea what you mean by saying that weight doesn't matter. Weight is all search is about. If you google for "stack overflow", you get 2,900,000 results, too. Does that mean that Google is as useful as going through every existing web page by hand? No. In fact, they have no problem to let me search english.stackexchange.com for "that vs which" and return that question as the top result.
    – ЯegDwight
    Commented Aug 15, 2010 at 16:24
  • sigh If you do not search for "beer" but only for "which" and "that", where beer has a higher weight than "which" and "that", then the higher weight is useless, because you do not search for beer. Do you go through all your hits in Google? Do you go through all your hits in SO when searching for "Java"? No, you do not! Because there are too many! Do you get that? You only check the first two pages, maybe three. And it is highly unlikely, that the first three pages show the result you are searching for, when using "what" or "where" or "which" as search terms. Is that such complicated? Commented Aug 15, 2010 at 16:31
  • 1
    if I can't find what I am looking for, I narrow down my search. If searching for "Java" returns too many results, I search for "Java benchmark". If that is still too broad, I search for "Java memory usage benchmark", and so on. Similarly, if searching for "which" or "that" does not show the result I am searching for, I would search for "which vs that" or "which that difference usage appropriate", whatever. I could narrow down my search at any time, but in order to do that I need to have something to narrow down my search from, and an empty result set is not a good working base.
    – ЯegDwight
    Commented Aug 16, 2010 at 8:42
  • The searches are working now. In particular the search for what+which proves you wrong :-) Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 9:47

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