Using Advanced Gmail Search To Find What You Need

A lot of people use their email as a ginormous repository of information. If you’re one of them you’ll be glad to know that Gmail’s advanced search operators can make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for.

When you have a huge inbox, simply searching basic keywords in the Gmail search isn’t always very helpful. Here are a few tips to help you zero in on exactly what you want.

Let’s say you’re looking for an email that you sent to John with a file attached.You’ll find it quickly using this search: has:attachment

Or maybe you’re looking for all emails from May with .zip files attached.

in:anywhere has:attachment filename:zip before:2016/06/1 after:2016/4/30

Even if you don’t want to remember any of these operators, you can still tap into the power of advanced search by clicking the down arrow in the Gmail search box to access a more user-friendly search form.


Here is a list of helpful Gmail search terms from Google.

Operator Definition Examples
from: Used to specify the sender Example: from:amy
Meaning: Messages from Amy
to: Used to specify a recipient, including “cc:” and “bcc:” fields Example: to:david
Meaning: All messages that were sent to David (by you or someone else)
subject: Search for words in the subject line Example: subject:dinner
Meaning: Messages that have the word “dinner” in the subject
OR Search for messages matching term A or term B*
*OR must be in all caps
Example: from:amy OR from:david
Meaning: Messages from Amy or from David

Used to exclude messages from your search Example: dinner -movie
Meaning: Messages that contain the word “dinner” but do not contain the word “movie”
label: Search for messages by label Example: from:amy label:friends
Meaning: Messages from Amy that have the label “friends”Example: from:david label:my-family
Meaning: Messages from David that have the label “My Family”
Search for messages with an attachment Example: from:david has:attachment
Meaning: Messages from David that have an attachment
list: Search for messages on mailing lists Example:
Meaning: Messages with the words in the headers, sent to or from this list
filename: Search for an attachment by name or type Example: filename:physicshomework.txt
Meaning: Messages with an attachment named “physicshomework.txt”Example: label:work filename:pdf
Meaning: Messages labeled “work” that also have a PDF file as an attachment
” “
Used to search for an exact phrase*
*Capitalization isn’t taken into consideration
Example: “i’m feeling lucky”
Meaning: Messages containing the phrase “i’m feeling lucky” or “I’m feeling lucky”Example: subject:”dinner and a movie”
Meaning: Messages containing the phrase “dinner and a movie” in the subject
( ) Used to group words
Used to specify terms that shouldn’t be excluded
Example: from:amy (dinner OR movie)
Meaning: Messages from Amy that contain either the word “dinner” or the word “movie”Example: subject:(dinner movie)
Meaning: Messages in which the subject contains both the word “dinner” and the word “movie”
in:anywhere Search for messages anywhere in Gmail*
*Messages in Spam and Trashare excluded from searches by default
Example: in:anywhere movie
Meaning: Messages in All Mail, Spam, andTrash that contain the word “movie”
Search for messages in Inbox,Trash, or Spam Example: in:trash from:amy
Meaning: Messages from Amy that are inTrash
Search within messages thatPriority Inbox considers important. Example: is:important from:janet
Meaning: Messages from Janet that were marked as important by Priority Inbox
Search for messages that are starred, unread, or read Example: is:read is:starred from:David
Meaning: Messages from David that have been read and are marked with a star
Search for messages with a particular star Example: has:purple-star from:David
Meaning: Messages from David that are marked with a purple star
Used to specify recipients in thecc: or bcc: fields*
*Search on bcc: cannot retrieve messages on which you were blind carbon copied
Example: cc:david
Meaning: Messages that were cc-ed to David
Search for messages sent or received during a certain period of time
(using the date format yyyy/mm/dd)
Example: after:2004/04/16 before:2004/04/18
Meaning: Messages sent between April 16, 2004 and April 18, 2004.*
*More precisely: Messages sent after 12:00 AM (or 00:00) April 16, 2004 and before April 18, 2004.
Similar to older and newer, but allows relative dates using d, m, and y for day, month, and year Example: newer_than:2d
Meaning: Finds messages sent within the last two days.
is:chat Search for chat messages Example: is:chat monkey
Meaning: Any chat message including the word “monkey.”
deliveredto: Search for messages within a particular email address in the Delivered-To line of the message header Example:
Meaning: Any message with in the Delivered-To: field of the message header (which can help you find messages forwarded from another account or ones sent to an alias).
circle: Search for messages that were sent from someone who you added to a particular Google+ circle Example: circle:friends
Meaning: Any message that was sent by a person in your “Friends” circle.Examples: circle:”soccer friends (team blue)” or circle:”my \”fab four\””
Notes: For circle names that include a space, parentheses, curly brackets, or vertical bar, add quotes around the name. For names that include quotes, add a back slash immediately before the quotes.
has:circle Search for all messages that were sent from someone who you added to your Google+ circles Example: has:circle
Meaning: Any message that was sent by a person in any of your circles.
category: Search for messages within a category Example: category:updates
Meaning: All messages in the Updates category.Example: category:social Mindy
Meaning: Messages in the Social category that include “Mindy.”
size: Search for messages larger than the specified size in bytes Example: size:1000000
Meaning: All messages larger than 1MB (1,000,000 bytes) in size.
Similar to size: but allows abbreviations for numbers Example: larger:10M
Meaning: All messages of at least 10M bytes (10,000,000 bytes) in size.
(plus sign)
Match the search term exactly Example: +unicorn
Meaning: Finds messages containing “unicorn” but not “unicorns” or “unciorn”
rfc822msgid: Find a message by the message-id header
Meaning: Locates the exact message with the specified SMTP message-id. Learn more about headers.
Search for messages that have and have not had labels that you created applied to them.
NOTE: Gmail applies labels to individual messages, not to conversation threads.
Example: has:nouserlabels
Meaning: Finds all messages without any of your own labels (excludes automatic labels like inbox, spam, and trash). Since Gmail applies labels to individual messages, you might see results that appear to have labels; in this case, another message in the same conversation thread has had a label applied to it.

#323 Be a Better Googler: Using Advanced Search Options

Often, we are so busy chasing the latest shiny things that we forget to stop and learn the basic things we use everyday better.  One great example, is Google search. Most people never get beyond just typing a few words into the basic search box.  I’ve covered these before. In fact, this whole weekly tip thing started with a series on getting better Google search results. ( Seek And Ye Shall Find” Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 )  Since there are about a thousand of you on this list who weren’t around back then I thought this topic would be a good one to revisit.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the results you can easily improve your search results by using the Advanced search form instead of the single default box.

To get even better results, take a few minutes to learn about some of the search operators that will allow you to:

If you don’t want to learn any of the operators you can get many of the same benefits by using They have built a much more complete and user-friendly way to search Google for specific things including music, videos and books, as well as providing other tools like a phone book, calculator, dictionary and more.


If you’re interested in learning even more? You can check out a good cheat sheet or take the free “Power Searching With Google” course.