Probing and digging around (Searching for information)

a black dog digging a hole on a sandy beach

by Kate Woodford

I recently heard someone say that they had left no stone unturned in their search for information, meaning that they had done everything they possibly could to find it. I started thinking about the concept of trying to find out facts and the various words and phrases that we use to convey it. This post is the result of these musings.

Starting with a very useful verb, if someone investigates a crime or a problem, they examine it carefully in order to find out the truth. Another way of saying this is the phrasal verb look into:

Police are investigating the incident.

A law firm has been hired to look into the matter.

If you consult a professional person or book, etc. with information on a particular subject, you get information from them:

I decided to consult a doctor/lawyer.

If only she’d consulted a dictionary.

Some near-synonyms convey the sense of trying to find out about facts which are hidden. For example, if you probe, you ask someone lots of questions in order to discover secret or private information: If you dig or dig around, you try to discover information about someone by asking other people or examining different sources.

She intimated that she had been depressed and I didn’t like to probe any deeper.

I wanted to know where his money had come from, so I started doing a bit of digging.

The informal verbs snoop (around) and nose around also mean ‘to try to find out about facts which are hidden’ but are rather disapproving.

Journalists had apparently been snooping around, asking questions of friends of the prince.

I don’t want her nosing around in my office, looking at all my private papers.

If you pump someone for information, you attempt to get information from them, sometimes in a slightly dishonest way: Lena was pumping me for gossip about Daniel’s new girlfriend.

There are some other nice phrasal verbs in this area. For example, if you delve into a subject, you examine it carefully in order to discover information:

In tonight’s programme, he delves into the murky world of political donations.

If you sift through something, especially documents or evidence, you examine it all in order to find relevant and useful information:

We are currently sifting through paperwork and other evidence.

If you follow up a piece of information, you try to find out more about it:

I was quite intrigued by the story and thought I’d follow it up.

Police were following up a lead that his attacker had got off a train at the same time.

A related post – to follow – will consider words for successfully finding information.

22 thoughts on “Probing and digging around (Searching for information)

  1. Sana Rahim

    Very nice post.

    Miss Kate can you please tell me if the following sentence is correct.

    I hope you don’t mind me not taking books from you.

    1. Denis

      As far as I’m concerned, this sentence is absolutely correct. I don’t see any grammatical issues in it. What part of the sentence confuses you?
      This would depend on the context, but just remember that if you’re talking about specific books, you need to use the definite article before the word ‘books’ and say ‘the books’. Other than that, from a grammatical standpoint, if that’s what you mean, the sentence is fine.

      1. Denis

        “Won’t” indicates the future tense in that sentence. However, If the person saying the sentence is talking about the present, they ought to use “don’t”. Moreover, after hope, we often use present verb forms even when there is reference to the future:
        “We hope she passes her driving test next week.”
        “I just hope the bus is on time tomorrow.”
        “I hope it doesn’t rain.”
        Please follow this link for further information:

  2. Yeri Ekomunajat

    Very useful information on the topics. We don’t have such rich and widely different nuances of word meanings in my native language, Indonesian.

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