1. Home
  2. Blog
  3. How-To
  4. How to Search a PDF for Words or Phrases
how to search a pdf@2x

How to Search a PDF for Words or Phrases

by Hung Nguyen

You can also read this article in German, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Italian and Portuguese.

The easiest ways to search for a word in a PDF using a PDF reader or web browser.

PDFs are arguably one of the most common document formats that’s used to share and view content. Thus, basic PDF readers all come with a primary search function that allows you to search its content for specific words or phrases; and the procedure’s pretty standard for each program.

How to search for a word in a PDF using any PDF reader

  1. Open any PDF with your default PDF reader.

  2. Press CTRL+F (Windows) or CMD+F (Mac).

  3. In the text box, enter your search term.

  4. The first match will be highlighted.

  5. Press Enter or click the right arrow to navigate between the results.

  6. Alternatively, press the left arrow key to go back.

In a similar fashion, you can type in multiple words to create and search for a specific phrase in your PDF. To end the pdf search, you can click CMD/CTRL+F again to hide the search bar.

how to search for a word in a pdf

PDF searching made easy

How to search a PDF for words using a browser


Your favorite internet browser (Chrome, Safari, Edge, Firefox) all have search functions enabled. All you have to do is:

  1. Using any browser, open a PDF document (right-click > Open with).

  2. Press CTRL+F or CMD+F, depending on your OS.

  3. Alternatively, access the Find function in the menu bar.

  4. Type and navigate between search results using the arrows next to the search box.

  5. Click X to remove/hide the search bar.

We make PDF searching easy


To simplify work with PDF files further for our users, we have created a free PDF reader that can carry out basic functionalities, for you to search a pdf in multiple PDFs. You can download and install your copy via the Smallpdf PDF Reader page. Then, follow the instructions as stated earlier in this article to word search PDF files.

As stated, document searching is similar in pretty much any PDF reader. Regardless of whether you are viewing your files using Smallpdf, Adobe Acrobat Reader or Preview, the simple two-button press should allow you seamlessly go through our content.



The dialog box is not case sensitive, so you don’t have to worry about capitalizing the text that you want to search for, and the search function will still match any of the words that you have typed in for you.

Smallpdf Reader automatically detects bookmarks, and displays them on the left-hand side, to make PDF document navigation even more accessible for your needs. Millions of students, teachers, and business professionals have to go through the textbook and lengthy manuals every day and appreciates our reader profusely, just for this PDF search function.

How to search a scanned PDF


In this case, where the content is placed as an image within PDFs, you’d first have to convert the PDF file into an editable format, such as Word, using our PDF Converter. Afterward, you can download the document and go through its content, in the same manner as stated.

Advanced searching is enabled in Microsoft Word and Excel that allows you to search for multiple phrases, and even replace a word with another in your document.

ocr for scans

OCR to convert scanned PDFs into a searchable format

Other than that…


Now that how to search a PDF problem is out of the way, there are more than a dozen free online tools on our website that enables you to modify your favorite file format, including:

  • PDF Converter - to convert scanned PDFs into a searchable format.

  • Compress - to slim file sizes down as much as possible.

  • Split - to cut away needless pages.

  • eSign - place signatures onto your documents.

  • Edit - insert text, images or drawings online.

PDF detective

The Small PDF detective is here to help!

Hung Nguyen
Hung Nguyen
Content Marketing Manager @Smallpdf