Sometimes I want to search for a specific word but I don't want to find words which have my search string as a substring.

For example, if I search for "pan" (bread, in Spanish), I don't want to find the words "expansión", "sepan", or "panorama". A partial work around would be to search for " pan " (with spaces around), but in this case, I will not find the word "pan" when it is at the end of the sentence ("pan.") or near a comma ("pan,").

Is there a straightforward way to accomplish that?

2 Answers 2


You used tag isearch so presumably you want to search interactively, not using Lisp. And you used tag words; you apparently want to search for a whole word.

In that case, just use M-s w, which does isearch-forward-word at the top-level, and which does isearch-toggle-word from within Isearch.

See the Emacs manual, node Word Search.

(I found that information in the manual by just doing i word search.)


You can use #'isearch-forward-regexp to search with a regex instead of a bare string. This function is bound to C-M-s by default.

So, we can search for \bpan\b. \b is a word boundary -- so it matches "the empty string, but only at the beginning or end of a word". So we search for a word boundary, then the word "pan", then another word boundary.

Alternately, passing a prefix argument to #'isearch-forward (which is bound to C-s by default) does an incremental search by regex. So you'd type C-u C-s.

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