10 Useful GMail Search Tips

Like many of you, I’ve been happily using GMail for years. While there are many things I like about it, one in particular has always impressed me: email search. It’s no surprise that Google would add powerful search features to their email system, but there are many great features that go laregely unnoticed by many GMail users. Today we’ll go over some of GMail’s best search tricks and how to get the most out of this powerful feature.

1. Removing keywords

A common websearch function applied to email. You can filter out items containing certain words. For example, if I want to get a list of all my MakeTechEasier messages, but not those relating to pingbacks, I can remove items containing that word from my results with the minus sign.


2. To: and From:

Probably the simplest and most often used search function is the ability to specify sender or recipient. By specifying a name or email address you can narrow results to items written by (or to) a name or email address. In this example, I’m trying to get all the emails I’ve written about MakeTechEasier to Damien.


3. CC:

Much like To: and From:, you can filter to show messages with a certain person in the cc or bcc fields. Here I am searching for all party-related messages that involve my good friend The Dude.


4. has:attachment

This one’s pretty self-explanatory – you can get only the results that have a file attached. In this example Im looking for all emails from my sister that may have pictures of her kids.


5. filename:

Similar to #4 above, but this time you can specify an exact filename, or even just part of a filename in an attachment. I can improve upon my previous search by specifying that I want only results with pictures attached.


6. OR

No search system is complete without at least a few boolean operators, and GMail is no exception. While AND is implied in most searches, sometimes you need OR to get the results you want. In this example, I’m trying to get messages about Christmas plans from both sisters.


OR, by the way, does have to be in caps.

7. is:

Another very handy one, is: lets you see only messages in a certain state, like read, unread, or starred. Here, I’m trying to get any emails from Damien which I had previously marked as important (starred).


8. label:

Labels are already a very useful GMail feature, and the search function only makes it better. You can tell the search to return only messages with a particular label attached. If I have a Work label for all my work-related emails and I want to find a message relating to last year’s company picnic, I can use label: to avoid getting messages relating to my countless other picnics of 2008.


9. (Parentheses)

I just recently learned about this, and I’m very glad I did. Using parentheses you can group items for use with things like OR. Parentheses can shorten what might otherwise be a long search string. Let’s say I’m searching for the XBox Live names of my friends Adam, Galt and Joe. I could write out three separate from: statements much like #6, or I could use parentheses to group items together.


10. Combinations

A few of these examples have combined the search options into single queries. GMail gives nearly unlimited flexibility when combining complex search options. You can get extremely detailed results by combining the options to return exactly what you want. The following is an attempt to bring up all messages from both of my sisters about all our prior Christmas plans, that also have pictures attached, but not including our trip to Kentucky.



  1. I had not thought about removing keywords ~ great post. I think the Quick Links feature in Labs has saved me hours by allowing me to store frequently used searches, especially “label:unread” and “label:read.”

  2. Is it me or can anyone address this? Is there no Wildcard search for gmail. If you search for ex. “maketecheasier” and type in “techeasier” it finds nothing. Type in “*techeasier” you need to type in the full “maketecheasier”

  3. Quote: “…gives nearly unlimited flexibility when combining complex search…” — ??? “unlimited flexibility” when google can’t even implement wildcard or partial word search for gmail – a KNOWN EXPECTED REQUIRED feature of other non-google apps, products and user interfaces that have been around for more than 10 years. W.T.@#$%.

  4. Is there any way to filter (and then, delete) mails with large attachments (say, > 2 MB) to free-up some space? Desperate for an answer as I am now at 96% of the allowed space.

    • You can search for mail with attachments (of any size) but the only way I have found to filter / sort based on size is to use an IMAP mail viewer (such as Thunderbird) to view your GMAIL account. You can then choose to display file size of each message and delete the large ones.

      • Thanks, Jim. I was looking for a way to do what Anirudh was looking for and not finding anything beyond the has:attachment filter. Thanks for the info.

  5. Josh, are you aware of a way to search for a text string, including a parentheses? For example, let's say I wanted to search for body text in all emails that included the characters, ” 29(“. It appears that Gmail, by default, ignores the parentheses. Is there a way to get it to search for the parentheses in the text string?

  6. I've run a few tests to find out, including things like HTML and bash-type escape codes, but so far it seems to ignore the parentheses no matter what I've tried, sorry.

  7. You can use http://www.findbigmail.com to label your big emails into three groups so that you can go through them and delete all the ones you no longer need. It uses Google’s third party Oauth interface so you do not have to share your password to use it.

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