Say you have a list of movie titles, and you want to either sort them, or search through them, and some of them have “The ” at the start, for example:

  • The Simpsons
  • Simpson Street

When doing a MySQL search:

SELECT * FROM movies WHERE title LIKE "The Simp%";

Would only return the first row. But if you are working in a company where there is no standard set, the movie title could be formatted as “Simpsons, The” – and then, it won’t be found.

To solve this, you could replace the “The ” letters with blank, and then sort out the field contents during the query:

$str_query = preg_replace("/(title like "(the )(.*)%")/i",
    "REPLACE(LOWER(title), "the ", "") LIKE ("$3%")",    

This will change :

"(title LIKE "The Simpsons")"


"(title LIKE "Simpsons")"

But, the (the) in line 2 tells PHP to only replace it if starts with “The ” (case insenstive).

However, what if you want to search for “the”  (not sure why you would…)

You need to do a negative lookahead, to tell the expression to only carry on, if the search phrase is not exactly “the”

if (preg_match("/(title like "(?!the)(.*)%")/i", $str_query)) {

The (?!the) is the readahead.

(.*) matches any string but it is greedy and you have to be carfeul that it doesn’t just accept everything to the end of $str_query. (but its okay in our case, as we are looking for % (the LIKE wildcard))

After all this, we can run:

SELECT * FROM movies WHERE $str_query;

But what about sorting? All the titles beginning with “The” will appear in the T section. Whereas really, we want the Simpsons to appear in the S section.

Add an easy ORDER BY clause here:

SELECT * FROM movies WHERE $str_query ORDER BY (REPLACE(title, "the ", "") ASC;


By admin

10 thought on “Regex – “The” searching”
  1. There are many. It depends on what level you want. Do you want a free account? Have you got your own web server? Are you confortable with installing apps on a server?

    You stated a CMS, this is more than a blog, this is more of a collabatory website.

    If you just want a free blog, on a free server, wordpress is very popular, then there is google blogger ( – alternatively, search for free blogs on google!

    Also, check to see what sort of domain name you’d get. Would be acceptable to you? if not, you might have to find a paid solution.

    HTH, Chris.

  2. Oh God, even just finding a simple movie title would give you problems.I’ve tried it out and I couldn’t find it.So is so about if looking for a movie that really starts with only “the”? Is it possible to find the right partner of it? will it give us a list of the movie title that starts with “the” only and you don’t know the other remaining words?

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