How to Search Better:
the Google calculator!

Put the Internet to work with more than just unearthing pages with the information you need; make it work things out for you as well. Thanks to its Calculator feature, Google can be as good at converting weights and measures as it is at finding web pages.

You don’t need to go to a special page as you do with the Google Images search; just phrase the query correctly to get it worked out for you. Try typing ‘UK pints in a US pint’ to see how much smaller an American pint is compared with an English one, or 289*0.175 to find the VAT (UK sales tax) part of a price (currently at 17.5%) on something offered at 289. You can do some of the same things with the Calculator utility or Unit Convertor widget, but often it can be more convenient to use this feature directly from your browser.

Google’s Calculator can perform basic and more complex maths as well as deal with converting a broad range of units of measure and physical constants. Its scope is wider than any single person is ever likely to need, but as a world-wide service it aims to cater for just about every requirement. For example, you can convert octal (base-eight numbers) into Roman numerals, although we’re not sure quite who would need to.

One particularly handy thing about using Google to perform these calculations is that if you get the phrasing of the calculation wrong Google will still attempt a regular Internet search with it. As a result, it will almost certainly show you a long list of sites which offer all the conversion information you need, even if it can’t figure out how to perform the calculation. (If you’d like to try and force a calculation, try putting an equals symbol at the end. If it is mathematically resolvable in any way this should do the trick.)

The maths symbols, or operators, include plus, minus, multiply and divide, just as you’d expect. They also go on to cover exponent (raising a number to the power of something), modulo (giving the remainder of a division), root calculations, and, particularly usefully, a simple ‘percentage of’ calculation. For example, to find out what percent 12 is of 89, ask Google ‘12% of 89’. Going further, you can ‘choose’ (find the ways a given number of elements can be chosen from another number), find square roots, use trigonometric functions, logarithms in base e or base 10, and find the factor of a number. Use parentheses to evaluate certain parts of a mathematical expression before others, and, should you need to, use prefixes before numbers to define them as hexadecimal, octal or binary. This certainly goes much further than most people ever need, but it is all there should the occasion arise.

When it comes to units of measure, you can use both long and short names for most constants. This goes from the obvious - cm and km are synonyms for centimeter and kilometer - to the esoteric - c and g are the synonyms for ‘the speed of light’ and ‘gravitational constant’. Others, such as ‘the speed of sound’, have no short name equivalent; just use the full term instead.

Examples:

Operator

Function

Example

+

add

121+157

-

subtract

212-34

*

multiply

21*6

/

divide

95/14

^

exponent (raise to the power of)

6^3

choose

the number of ways a set can be chosen from another set

12 choose 3

'nth' root of

calculates the 'nth' root of a number

ninth root of 12

% of

find the percentage of a number

20% of 128

sqrt

square root

sqrt(12)

sin, cos, etc.

trigonometric functions

tan(60 degrees)

ln

logarithm base e

ln(12)

!

factorial

6!

Note that while you can use these operators in the pure, classical sense, you can also do most of these calculations using much more sentence-like expressions. Rather than type the precise but cryptic-looking sqrt(12) you can ask for ‘the square root of 12’. In this limited area, Google really does do an effective form of natural language comprehension.

How to Search Better

What are you looking for?

Taking control

Google Tricks

Natural language searching

Bookmarks

Sherlock

Browser tabs

Google Calculator

Looking for web site optimisation tips instead? Read the Be Found pages.

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