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How to use Gmail search operators to quickly filter your inbox

How to use Gmail search operators to quickly filter your inbox

min read

If your inbox is too messy to effectively find past emails quickly, then congratulations! You’re just like everyone else. 

However, this turns into a real issue if you’re on the hunt for an all-important email from the past — such as a business communication or a tax document. 

You’ve likely used Gmail’s search function in the past, but odds are, you’re only using it to a fraction of its potential. That’s why every user should have a basic understanding of Gmail search operators.

<a href="#what-are" class="anchor-link">What are Gmail search operators?</a>

<a href="#who-uses" class="anchor-link">Who uses Gmail search operators and why?</a>

<a href="#how-to-search" class="anchor-link">How to search your Gmail inbox</a>

<a href="#how-to-use" class="anchor-link">How to use the most common Gmail search operators</a>

  • <a href="#multiple-search" class="anchor-link">Multiple search operators</a>
  • <a href="#gmail-search" class="anchor-link">Gmail search operators on a mobile device</a>
  • <a href="#troubleshooting" class="anchor-link">Troubleshooting Gmail search operators</a>

<a href="#common-gmail" class="anchor-link">Common Gmail search operator examples</a>

  • <a href="#find-specific" class="anchor-link">Find emails from a specific person</a>
  • <a href="#find-labeled" class="anchor-link">Find labeled emails</a>
  • <a href="#find-unread" class="anchor-link">Find unread emails</a>
  • <a href="#exclude-words" class="anchor-link">Exclude words from your search</a>

<a href="#find-emails" class="anchor-link">Find emails quickly without search operators</a>

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="what-are" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

What are Gmail search operators?

Gmail search operators are symbols and words that you can use to find exactly what you’re looking for within your Gmail inbox. By using these commands, you can find the specific email (or group of emails) you’re trying to track down. 

You can filter by:

  • who sent the email.
  • words in the subject line or the body of the email.
  • folders.
  • read or unread.
  • marked as important.
  • Labels.

That’s just to start. With dozens of available Gmail search operators, you’ll quickly be able to find what you’re looking for.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="who-uses" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Who uses Gmail search operators and why?

Rather than search one by one through your email, Gmail search operators allow you to quickly sift through messages and show only the ones you’re looking for.

Many businesses love the personal touch, convenience, and deliverability of using Gmail. However, organizing communication with a couple dozen clients quickly gets out of hand. With the right search operators, you can pull up the right group of emails to have on hand for your reference.

They’re also handy for anyone who wants to find a personal email from a friend or a spreadsheet about assignments for a family reunion.

In other words, every Gmail user could benefit from using search operators. Even having a few go-to ones can save you time and headaches.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="how-to-search" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

How to search your Gmail inbox

You’ve probably seen this in your Gmail inbox before:

A screenshot of the Gmail search box

The Gmail Search Box is the simplest version of Gmail’s search function, and it’s possible you’ve been frustrated by the broad results it returns for you. 

However, there’s a simple way to create an advanced search to help improve your filtering. First, go ahead and click on the filter icon to the far right of the search bar:

A screenshot fo the Gmail search box with a blue arrow pointing to the filter icon at the far right of the search bar

You’ll then see this dropdown feature:

A screenshot of the dropdown menu that appears once you click the filter icon in the far right of the search bar

Here, you’ll see a whole host of ways to filter your searches, such as inputting:

  • who the email is from.
  • who the email was sent to.
  • what was in the subject lines.
  • what words are in the email itself.
  • what words aren’t in the email.
  • how long ago the email was sent.
  • whether the email has attachments.

For many people, using these search functions is a great start. However, adding a few of the most common search operators to your repertoire can help improve your ability to find the right email.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="how-to-use" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

How to use the most common Gmail search operators

All you have to do is type these Gmail search operators right into the search bar:

Table showing the essential things to use when searching your Gmail inbox. These include the words to use to filter the emails and the search operators,. Examples in the last column of how to write it in the search bar is provided

In addition, if you simply put your cursor in the search box, Gmail gives you built-in search “chips.” In this example below, you can click on “Has attachment,” and it’s as if you’ve used the operator “has:attachment.”

A screenshot of the Gmail search bar with the built-in search "chips" below the search bar that appears when you simply put your cursor in the search box. In this case, the "Has attachment" search "chips" was selected

Google’s documentation lists around 30 search operators that can be used in its email platform.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="multiple-search" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Multiple search operators

You can also improve your filtering by combining search operators to narrow down the results. 

For example, let’s say that you’re looking for an email that one of your clients, John Doe, sent you. You know that the email had an important attachment in it.

You could type this into the search bar:

from:John Doe has:attachment

This search operator would help you locate anything from John with an attachment almost immediately.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="gmail-search" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Gmail search operators on a mobile device

Gmail’s search operators are fully functional from mobile devices as well. Simply use any of the search operators, and you’ll instantly get the results you need.

A screenshot of a Gmail search box from a mobile device

In addition, when you tap the search bar, you’ll see tappable chips with these titles:

  • Labels
  • From
  • To
  • Attachments
  • Date
  • Is unread
  • Exclude calendar updates

Again, when you click on one of those options, it’s as if you’re using the actual search operator for that filter.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="troubleshooting" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Troubleshooting Gmail search operators

If your searches are producing broad results or nothing at all, then there are a couple of things that you can try:

  • Double-check for typos in the search operator.
  • Make sure there’s a colon between the search operator and the search term.
  • Delete any spaces between the colon and the search term.
  • Ensure that your search operator is valid.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="common-gmail" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Common Gmail search operator examples

Here are a few common ways of using search operators to find specific emails in your Gmail inbox.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="find-specific" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Find emails from a specific person


In the search box, go ahead and type in “from:” and then either put in their name or their email address. If you want to find all emails from your cousin John, you could type in “,” inserting whatever his real email address is.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="find-labeled" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Find labeled emails

🔍 Label:John Doe

Many users like to manually or automatically label emails from certain senders. For example, a business might want to organize every email sent from a client named John Doe, and you create a label with his name. Later, you can search these labels with “label:John Doe.” 

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="find-unread" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Find unread emails

🔍 Is:unread

Many of the more organized users like to have all emails marked as “read” or they feel like they have unfinished business. To search for these, type in “is:unread.”

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="exclude-words" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Exclude words from your search

🔍 John Doe -Smith

Perhaps you have two different clients named John, and a broad search (even using last names) pulls up all communications with both. Your solution would be to search for “John Doe -Smith.” This would bring up all communication with John Doe, while excluding John Smith’s messages.

<div class="anchor-wrapper"><div id="find-emails" class="anchor-target"></div></div>

Find emails quickly without search operators

Rather than using Gmail’s search operators and filters to manage your client relationships, try using Streak pipelines.

Streak integrates directly with Gmail, helping you and your team seamlessly track every interaction you have with your contacts. When it’s time for your next call, just look up the associated deal or contact to review previous interactions, find attachments, and prepare for a productive conversation.

Where others use complicated filtering and copy-pasting emails into spreadsheets, you can spend your time where it matters: on building relationships.

With our flexible pricing plans, Chrome extension, and built-in automations, you’ll find yourself more effective than ever before. In fact, go ahead and give us a try for free to see how easy it is to streamline your sales process.

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