This might be the wrong place - if so, I can delete.

I'm looking for correct language guidance regarding a line on a lead generation web application where we allow a user to search for more information on the selected lead (a person) using various websites (Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), and using the site's icons as a clickable button.

Currently, it reads "Search for them on: (google)(Facebook)"
I have a request to change it to "Search them on: (google)(Facebook)"

I believe that the original label is correct and that the requested change doesn't actually have the same meaning, but I'm getting some pushback on my assertion.

Am I correct in my statement that "Search for them on Google" is the appropriate sentence, and that "Search them on Google" has a wholly different meaning?

  • Hello, jslowik. How do dictionaries say 'search' and 'search for' are generally used? Have you reason that there are different conventions in computerese (if so, ELU is not the best place to ask about these). Aug 23, 2021 at 19:51
  • @EdwinAshworth Thanks for the question! To be clear, I'm interested in the correct use rather than what might be understood by a technical team. This sentence will be presented to users. I just wasn't super sure how to set up the question w/o the context. The definition of search tends to be similar to "to look through, look at or examine, explore or examine". My belief is that if you remove the preposition, the meaning of the sentence changes. I have no actual power with this decision, so my question is really more academic.
    – jslowik
    Aug 23, 2021 at 20:02
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    I would say Search Firstname Lastname on: [Google] [Facebook], where Firstname Lastname actually represents a query term. I assume you're passing those parameters for the search? In this case, for would not be used. Aug 23, 2021 at 20:40
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    The direct object of search is generally the thing you are searching within; you "search container for sought-thing" (see also Lexico). I think there may be an alternative construction "search sought-thing", as Tinfoil Hat says, but if so, it is a newer usage associated with search engines, and hence not in the dictionaries I checked.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 23, 2021 at 20:58
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    @StuartF: From the OED: 4. b. (c) transitive. With the subject of the search, esp. a search term, as object. ..... Examples given: 1985 The topic ‘clinical ladder’ demonstrates this advantage. In Nursing & Allied Health..you can search the term directly. 2019 Uploaded a bunch of new gifs to instagram. search ‘cash cash’ to check em all out!! Aug 23, 2021 at 23:16

1 Answer 1


"Search," by itself, is a transitive verb. "Search them," without context, means "investigate them closely." "Search for" is the most common construction to indicate a search term.

Tinfoil Hat gives some examples of "search [query]," in which "search" is used transitively, so this usage is common enough that your point would be understood. However, even this colloquial construction breaks down when you add the prepositional phrase indicating the search platform, "search them on Google."

All of the following would be idiomatically appropriate:

  • Search for them on ___
  • Look them up on ___
  • Search ___ for them

... and, of course, in the most prominent example of "verbing nouns"... "Google them."

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