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This got a bit lost in the excitement over my first question, (k+1)th or (k+1)st?, so I thought I'd spin it off into its own question. I'm not sure if this is too abstract to be appropriate for this venue, but I thought I'd give it a shot.

When trying to figure out which of two variants of the same phrase is more common, a good first step is to Google both (putting each in quotation marks) and seeing how many hits each garners. As we discovered in my other question, this fails when one or more of the variants contains punctuation. You'd be out of luck if you wanted to decide whether to put a hyphen in full time: "full time" and "full-time" give exactly the same search results, even with quotation marks. (The situation is a bit more complicated with "(k+1)st", but the bottom line is that it returns many results which don't contain the literal string I was searching for.)

Is there any way to measure how widely a phrase with a specific punctuation is used?

Note that this is question is about measuring usage, not deciding what variant is best for a given situation. For that, the best way is presumably to ask a question here :)

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closed as off topic by Thursagen, waiwai933 Aug 3 '11 at 4:00

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Welcome to EL&U! I'm afraid questions about English language resources are off-topic on this site. If you rephrase your question, it may be acceptable on our English Language & Usage Meta site if you ask this question as it pertains to making your answers on this site better. Outside of that, I don't believe there are any other SE sites where this question would be on-topic. –  waiwai933 Aug 3 '11 at 4:03
    
Try ngrams.googlelabs.com. –  mgkrebbs Aug 3 '11 at 4:18
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@waiwai933 Thanks for the polite closure notice. I thought this question was borderline, but thought I'd try just in case. –  Ross Churchley Aug 3 '11 at 4:33
    
@mgkrebbs I appreciate the suggestion, especially on a closed question. I didn't know about Google Ngrams before. Unfortunately (for future keyword-searchers arriving at this page) Ngrams doesn't seem to fully support punctuation: it gives usage of 0% for any hyphenated word you give it. But I'm sure I'll find much use for it in the future! –  Ross Churchley Aug 3 '11 at 4:37
    
@waiwai933: instead of using your moderator superpowers to autocratically close, you should let the closing process go as intended, needing 5 to close. Or at least migrate directly to meta. –  Mitch Aug 3 '11 at 14:07