In Preview (v 5.3 on 10.6.8), if I search for a single letter such as k in a pdf, the program will find and highlight every instance of that letter in the pdf.

However, if I search for a punctuation mark such as ? or ;, it will report Found on 0 pages, even when the document is littered with such punctuation.

How can I get preview to search for punctuation?

The reason for this is that I wish to locate all instances of missing references (denoted as [?]) in a pdf output from LaTeX. (Yes, I know that LaTeX will tell me where they are in the source file, but I wish to find them in the pdf.)

  • Can you search for [?] instead?
    – nohillside
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 11:46
  • 1
    No that doesn't work either... In fact if I search for [?] d it will find all locations of d and completely ignore the punctuation. I think punctuation is being stripped before the search. Probably nothing I can do about it. Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 12:18

2 Answers 2


A year late but may help others:

For me escaping it in double bracket works so try searching ":" or "?".

Escaping in double quotes searches for whatever is between the quotes similar to the way google does their search options.

  • 1
    Double brackets don't seem to work for the OP's problem whatever is stated inside square brackets are taken as sets of items.
    – Ébe Isaac
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 11:10
  • This does not work for me.
    – Karlo
    Commented Oct 8, 2022 at 1:35

Does it have to be in Preview? Preview doesn't seem to have this functionality as of El Capitan (10.11). However, I have found and tested two ways that you can search PDF files for punctuation.

  1. Acrobat Reader
  2. pdfgrep

Acrobat Reader

Using Adobe Acrobat, I simply entered the punctuation into the search field in this case a colon (:) and Acrobat found all instances of it.

Sample PDF Page

Note: I did successfully test out the question mark (?) and it worked. Unfortunately, the only document I had at the ready had personal info on it so I couldn't use it as an example. However, I made sure to test different punctuation from periods, exclamation points, question marks, commas, etc. and all worked.


pdfgrep is the PDF equivalent to the command line (CLI) utility grep. The useage is simple:


So, to search for a comma, and have it tell you what page number it occurs on, simply issue the command:

pdfgrep -n "?" foobar.pdf

pdfgrep is FOSS software and available on Homebrew and MacPorts. See man pdfgrep for more info.

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