How to Use Mac OS X Mail Search Operators to Find Mail

Mac Mail app shown running on macOS Sierra

Coyote Moon, Inc.

Add precision to your email search with macOS and OS X Mail search operators.

Search Results = a List Longer Than Your Inbox?

Archives grow, and so do search results. Even ranked with some intelligence, the mail you are looking for may bring up a long list of results.

Luckily, macOS and OS X Mail does not bombard you. Combining search operators ranging from sender to date to subject logically with "OR" and parentheses lets you zoom to the right result fast and precisely—and without much effort.

Use Mac OS X Mail Search Operators to Find Mail Precisely in Mail

To use search operators to limit search results in Mac OS X Mail:

  1. Press Command-Option-F in Mac OS X Mail's main window.
  2. Type the desired search terms, using the following operators if needed:
    1. from: - find email senders; use quotation marks to specify names; see below for examples.
    2. to: - find email recipients.
    3. subject: - find email subjects.
    4. date: - find emails by date (in "MM-DD-YYYY" format).

You can combine search operators (from:sender@example.com date:yesterday, for instance), but you cannot combine them using "OR" and "NOT". For this, and more advanced searches, you can use Spotlight.

Use Mac OS X Mail Search Operators to Find Mail Precisely in Spotlight

To search mail using Spotlight, which affords you even more control:

  1. Press Command-Option-Space.
  2. Type "kind:mail" in the search field to find all email messages.
  3. Make sure This Mac and Contents are selected under Search:
  4. Use the following search operators to narrow results:
  • from: - find email senders.
    • kind:mail from:sender@example.com finds all mail from sender@example.com.
    • kind:mail from:"Michael Mountain" finds all mail from Michael Mountain.
    • to: - find email recipients.
      • kind:mail to:recipient@example.com finds all mail to recipient@example.com.
      • kind:mail to:"Desiderius Drimmelen finds all mail to Desiderius Drimmelen.
  • subject: - find email subjects.
    • kind:mail subject:recipe finds all mail with "recipe" in the Subject line.
    • kind:mail subject:"cookie recipe" finds all mail with "cookie recipe" in the Subject line.
    • kind:mail subject:cookie subject:recipe finds all mail with both "cookie" and "recipe" anywhere in the Subject line.
  • date: - find email by date received.
    • kind:mail date:today finds all mail received today.
    • kind:mail date:yesterday finds all mail received yesterday.
    • kind:mail date:"this week" finds all mail received in the last 7 days.
    • kind:mail date:"this month" finds all mail received this month.
    • kind:mail date:10/20/2010 finds all mail received on Oct. 10, 2010.
    • kind:mail date:>10/10/2010 finds all mail received since Oct. 10, 2010; make sure the date uses the format you've specified in System Preferences.
    • kind:mail date:<10/10/2010 finds all mail received before Oct. 10, 2010.
    • kind:mail date:05/05/2010-10/10/2010 finds all mail received between May 5, 2010, and Oct. 10, 2010.

    You can combine search operators and terms:

    • OR - find email that matches either search term or operator.
      • kind:mail from:me@example.com OR from:"Desiderius Drimmelen" finds all mail from Desiderius Drimmelen or me@example.com.
      • kind:mail from:"Desiderius Drimmelen" ("Moriae encomium" OR stulticiae) finds all mail from Desiderius Drimmelen that contains either "Moriae encomium" (as a phrase) or "stulticiae".
    • AND - find email that matches all search terms or criteria.
      • Spotlight automatically assumes AND combination, but you can make it explicit.
      • kind:mail from:"Desiderius Drimmelen" ("Moriae encomium" OR stulticiae) can also be kind:mail AND from:"Desiderius Drimmelen" AND ("Moriae encomium" OR stulticiae), for example.
    • NOT - find email that does not contain a term or does not match an operator.
      • kind:mail from:@example.com NOT from:"Michael Mountain" finds all mail from the example.com domain but not those from Michael Mountain, even if his email address contains "@example.com".
      • kind:mail from:"Michael Mountain" (Sebond OR NOT essai) finds all mail from Michael Mountain that contain either "Sebond" or do not contain "essai"; messages that include "Sebond" and "essai" will show up.
    • () - use parentheses to group search terms.
      • kind:mail (from:"Michael Mountain" OR from: ((Sebond AND NOT essai) OR NOT essai) finds all mail from Michael Mountain that contain either "Sebond" or do not contain "essai"; messages that include "Sebond" and "essai" will not show up.

    (Tested with OS X Mail 4 and macOS Mail 10)