How Does Outlook Boolean Search Works?

Have you ever wondered why Outlook searches aren’t always returning the results you want them to?

Are they really searching the way you expect? I bet most of us have had some experience where our search queries didn’t return the desired result.

Wouldn’t it be great if you saw exactly what you expected each time you typed anything into Outlook?

You may already use Microsoft Office applications such as Word or Excel to create documents. If you’re using Outlook, you might also use it to send emails or manage contacts.

The problem is that Outlook uses its own internal search syntax (also known as the ‘Search box’) to perform these functions. In other words, it doesn’t use the same search syntax as Google does.

This means that if you type something into the Outlook search field, it won’t necessarily match the exact search string you entered.

Instead, Outlook will try to find items that contain the text you put into the search bar. There are ways around this, however, and if you would like to see exactly what you typed into Outlook, read on.

Microsoft has made changes to the Outlook Search box over the years. These changes include adding new features, removing old ones, changing how the search box works, and even introducing a new name for the feature.

It seems that every year, Microsoft introduces a new version of the search box.

Note: The instructions in this article apply to Outlook 2019, 2016, 2013, 2010, Outlook for Microsoft 365, and Outlook Online.

List of Outlook Search Operators

Type thisTo Find ThisExamples
()Use parenthesis to find email messages with different parameters.from:HDFC (received:1/1/21 or received:2/2/22)
<This function returns results that are smaller than the specified value or that occurred before it. Values themselves are not included.received:<12/15/2019
size:<5MB
received:<lastweek
received:<31-03-2022
<=Returns results that are either the same size or smaller than or happen on or before the specified value. That is to say, the value itself is included in the calculation.received:<=12/15/2019
size:<=5MB
received:<=lastweek
received:<=31-03-2022
>It returns results that are either larger than the specified value or that occurred after it. The value itself is not included.received:>12/15/2019
size:>5MB
received:>lastweek
received:>31-03-2022
>=Gets results that are the same size or larger than or happened on or after the specified value. Therefore, the value itself is included.received:>=12/15/2019
size:>=5MB
received:>=lastweek
received:>=31-03-2022
..This command returns results with a size between or an occurrence between the values specified. Also included are the values themselves.size:2MB..4MB
received:03-07-2021..15-12-2022
[ ]To find an item that does not have a certain value set, you can use the square bracket characters in order to locate it.anniversary:[]
” “Searching for an exact phrase in Outlook, which has spaces, type your phrase in quotation marks into the “Search” bar it will search in the body, subject line, or attachments.mail smartly
=Is equal to is used for the exact search =wordpress

As an alternative to using the two dots, you may also use the >= and <= operators.
Size:>=5MB<=10MB equals size:5MB…10MB

List of Boolean Search Syntax

Outlook searches multiple words using Boolean Search Syntax terms, and the result would be accurate.

This table shows you some examples of searches that you might find useful in the future. In addition to these examples, you can use AND, NOT, OR, <, >, =, and other operators to refine your search. It is recommended that operators be typed in uppercase letters.

Type thisTo Find ThisExamples
AND (uppercase)Using AND (uppercase) between keywords indicates Outlook to find a message or subject having both keywords.subject:”bill” AND subject:“Nov”
OR (uppercase)It combines the search terms so that either one or both of the terms appear in the search results, depending on how the terms are combined.subject:”bill” OR subject:”Nov”
NOT (uppercase) specify your search using NOT, which lined up results to the point. subject:”mail” NOT “email”
ALL (uppercase)All term is used to consider all the search keywords entered, instead of keyword1 AND keyword2 AND … AND keywordN you can use the Boolean function ALL ALL (keyword1, keyword2, …, keywordN)
Note: Use quotation marks [” “] in case keywords have spaces
ATLEASTONE (uppercase)At least one term is used to consider all the search keywords entered, instead of keyword1 OR keyword2 OR … OR keywordN you can use the Boolean function ATLEASTONE ATLEASTONE (keyword1, keyword2, …, keywordN)
Note: Use quotation marks [” “] in case keywords have spaces
NEITHER (uppercase)Neither term is used to consider all the search keywords entered, instead of keyword1 AND NOT keyword2 AND NOTAND NOT keywordN you can use the Boolean function NEITHERNEITHER (keyword1, keyword2, …, keywordN)
Note: Use quotation marks [” “] in case keywords have spaces
NOTALL (uppercase)Notall term is used to consider all the search keywords entered, instead of keyword1 OR NOT keyword2 OR NOTOR NOT keywordN you can use the Boolean function NOTALLNOTALL (keyword1, keyword2, …, keywordN)
Note: Use quotation marks [” “] in case keywords have spaces

Parentheses Search

It is possible to control the logic of a search query using parentheses. These parentheses may appear in any combination to control the logic of the search query.

For a left parenthesis to work, it must be accompanied by a right parenthesis. The parentheses in a query can be nested within each other.

For instance: (search AND multiple AND (emails OR folders))

Quotation Marks ” ” vs Non-Quotation Marks Search

Let’s take an example MAIL SMARTLY OUTLOOK:

Type subject: (mail smartly outlook) in the search bar.

It will display all items with mail smartly outlook in their subject, but not necessarily in that order. This will return the result since Outlook is part of Microsoft’s Office suite. Basically, it returns any item that contains the words Microsoft, Office, or Outlook in the subject line of the item.

Type subject: “mail smartly outlook” in the search bar.

All items whose subject contains exact mail smartly outlook will be returned by this query.

Few Additional Information

  • It is important to note that when you type words or phrases into the Search box, Outlook scans both your email messages and many types of attachments for those words or phrases. For instance, search “hot” with or without quotation marks. Outlook finds in the sender’s name, subject, message body, or attachments.
  • Similarly, when you type 123@xyz.com into the Search box, Outlook returns the results having this email in the subject, body, email messages, or many types of attachments as well as messages from that email address. In case you like to find it from the email address, type from:123@xyz.com.
  • The first 250 search results are returned by Outlook in order to keep the system running smoothly. You may want to try a more specific search if this list does not contain what you are searching for.

Final Words

Are you amazed at how comprehensive and powerful Outlook’s search capabilities are? It is truly remarkable. Are you even aware of the fact that all of that is possible?

It is likely that most people do not use even a tenth of everything Outlook is capable of. The information provided here can be used as a springboard to learn what else Outlook can do for you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where does Outlook Search First by Default?

When you type words or phrases into the Search box, Outlook scans in the Subject, Body, message, or even in the attachment name. In case you need to search in any one or two segments, you need to specify the search accordingly.

Does Outlook Search Specific Text inside the Attachment?

Yes, you can find the text which is available inside the attachment file using the advanced search “attachment contains”. You need to specify the keyword under quotation marks.

Outlook search does not find all emails

The first 250 results of a search are returned by Outlook in order to keep the system running smoothly. In the event that this list does not contain what you are looking for, you may want to try a more specific search in order to narrow your results.

How to Find Email with Size in Outlook using Boolean Search Syntax?

There are a few other search Syntax to find Emails with Size in Outlook.

  • Messagesize:tiny for message less then 10KB.
  • Messagesize:small for message less then 10KB – 25KB.
  • Messagesize:medium for message less then 25KB – 100KB.
  • Messagesize:large for message less then 100KB – 500KB.
  • Messagesize:verylarge for message less then 500KB – 1MB.
  • Messagesize:enormous for message whose size is larger than 5MB

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