While they are strikingly similar expressions, “Search”, “Search for” and “Search of” are all used in slightly different ways from sentence to sentence. This article explains when you should use each one, and what the differences are between all of them.
When you use the verb “search” on its own, you’re talking about the specific area in which you’re performing the search. Similarly, the phrase “Search of” precedes a mention of the place in which you’re searching. “Search for”, however, precedes the object you’re searching for.
Thus, “search for” has a different meaning than “search” and “search of”. The former refers to what you’re looking for when you talk about a search, and the latter refers to the place in which this search is being performed.
However, when you add the preposition “In” beforehand, the meaning of “Search of” changes, from the location to the object.
The verb “search”, without the preposition “for” afterward, is used to talk about the place the search is occurring in.
You should use “search” in this way when you’re not trying to elaborate on what the object of the search is. You should use “search” this way when you’re clarifying where the search happens.
Here are some example sentences to clarify in what context you use the preposition-less “search”:
- I searched the house, but I didn’t find my slippers.
- We all searched our cars until we found the missing wallet.
- The police are searching the house and will let us know if they find anything.
- Doug has been searching the island for the lost species.
- My cat searched the bungalow all evening.
- They searched the lake, to no avail.
The expression “Search for” is utilized to convey what object or thing should be located as a result of the search.
It doesn’t express where the search is taking place, but what you want to find through the search.
These example sentences showcase the proper use of “Search For”:
- The search for the car keys took a whole hour until they found them.
- We were not prepared for how boring the search for the right paint would be.
- Everyone struggles with the search for purpose in life.
- I’m searching for cat food in the department store.
- We will search for the phone for as long as it is necessary.
- I have been searching for a new computer for a while.
- He was searching for his friend last night.
- They will be searching for an apartment soon.
“Search of” is normally used when you’re talking about the place where the search is taking place. However, when you add the preposition “In” to create “In search of”, the meaning changes, and you’re suddenly talking about the object that is being searched for.
Both of these alternate uses of “search of” are exemplified in the following example sentences:
- The search of the house has taken a full day at this point.
- I am currently in search of a good roommate.
- The detective’s search of the office revealed no hidden clues.
- In search of a better life, I set off into the sea.
- At this hour, a search of the beach would be impossible.
- You know, he’s been in search of a new job for a few months now.
- Their search of my trunk has taken far too long.
- She has been in search of a new romance novel to read.
“In search of” is a phrase used to refer to the object being searched for, and has the same meaning as “Searching for”. “In search for” is technically incorrect English, as there should be an article before “search”. It is also used to refer to the object being searched for.
In contexts in which summarizing is important, “In search for” will be utilized, removing the grammatically necessary article. One such context is, for example, news article headlines, where space is deeply valuable.
These expressions are not interchangeable, and “In search for” should only exist in the specific contexts that warrant its use.
They are not interchangeable. “Search” and “Search of” refer to the place of the search, and “Search for” refers to the object being searched for.
The meaning of “search of” changes when you transform it into “in search of”. Originally it refers to the location of the search, but with “in”, it refers to the object instead.
According to information compiled by Google Ngram Viewer, “Search for” is utilized far more than “Search of”. The percentage of modern uses of “Search for” nearly doubles that of “Search of”.
This hasn’t always been this way. The data shows that throughout the 1800s until the beginning of the 20th century, “Search of” was used more.
This changed in 1910, and since then “Search for” has seen more use. The reason for this swap in common use can’t be easily explained without a thorough linguistic analysis of the data.
“Search about” is an often-misused phrase. It is incorrect to use it as a replacement for “Search for”, but it can be correctly used to refer to searching for information on a thing, rather than searching for a thing.
If you were to say “I searched about the files” to mean that you were looking for information on the files themselves, rather than looking directly for the files, it’d be a correct use of “search about”.
Plenty of other prepositions can be used in conjunction with “search” to convey different things. “Search on” refers to the area the search takes place in. “Search through” refers to searching the contents of something. “Search in” refers to an area inside of something that is being searched.
“Search on” refers to the place where a search is taking place. Most specifically, it would commonly be used when talking about a surface, an open area. This is a way of specifying the location where a search takes place once it fits the criteria to use “search on”.
- I search on the table for the house keys.
- She searched on the street for a full hour.
“Search in” is also used to refer to the place where a search is being done. However, it specifically means a place that is confined or can somehow be opened and closed. This sense of constriction differentiates it from “Search on”.
- She searched in the dictionary for the meaning.
- All-day I searched in the attic for the box.
“Search through” is used to refer to a search that is taking place in a space or object. In common “search through” uses, the object is a container, and the search explores the things that are contained within the object in question.
- I searched through the box of photographs.
- They were searching through all room’s cabinets.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.