How to Use Google as a Calculator

What's the cube root of 29? The sine of 55 degrees? Or the value of π/4? Do you need to search for your trusty calculator or pull out your phone to find out? No—you can just ask Google. Keep on reading The Math Dude to find out how.

Jason Marshall, PhD
4-minute read
Episode #211

Colorful AbacusAlthough I'd love to have a calculator embedded in my brain ready to be called upon in moments of calculational crisis, the sad truth is that I don't have one. And I suspect that you don't either. Not to bum you out, but I think it's going to be a while before any of us do.

But not everything is doom and gloom on this front, because these days, we are surrounded by calculating companions. And for those of us who spend a decent fraction of our day in front of a computer (which is a lot of us), one of the most powerful calculating devices is closer than you might think.

If you don't already know (and a lot of people don't), I'm talking about the ubiquitous Google search bar--which, believe it or not, can be used to perform most of the calculations you'll ever need (and a whole lot more.) What can it calculate? And how do you use it? That's exactly what we're going to find out today.


Meet the Google Calculator

Doing math with the Google search bar by typing in some expression and having it spit the answer back at you has been possible for many years—pretty much as long as I can remember. And a few years back—sometime around mid-2012—Google even added a fairly full-featured calculator that you can get to simply by searching for the word "calculator".

While the calculator can be handy, I normally just type my calculational queries directly into the search bar, and let the big Google give me the answer. What kind of questions do I ask? Well, although Google is able to "calculate" oh-so-useful answers to queries such as "number of horns on a unicorn" (seriously, try it—it works!), I usually just use it for good old basic arithmetic.

Google Does Basic Arithmetic

The Google calculator can deal with roots…both square and otherwise.

Google is also really good at basic arithmetic. As you'd expect, the Google calculator knows all about the big four arithmetic operators. It also knows how to calculator exponents. If you type something like 12^3 (the caret symbol is how you indicate an exponent), you'll get back the answer 1,728—which is indeed 12 x 12 x 12. The exponent doesn't have to be an integer—you can just as well calculate something like 5^3.5 (which is about 279.5, if you must know), or any other decimal exponent.

In addition to exponents, the Google calculator can deal with roots--both square and otherwise. If you type something like "the square root of 81" into the search bar, you'll be greeted with the answer 9. And if you type something like "the fourth root of 98" into the search bar, it'll give you the answer to that, too. As it turns out, the answer to this problem is roughly 3.1463—which is fairly close to the value of the number pi.

Speaking of which…


About the Author

Jason Marshall, PhD

Jason Marshall is the author of The Math Dude's Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. He provides clear explanations of math terms and principles, and his simple tricks for solving basic algebra problems will have even the most math-phobic person looking forward to working out whatever math problem comes their way.

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