What to expect from Gmail search

When you search or create and test a filter in Gmail, you might see some surprising results that are actually Gmail working as intended. Learn more about how Gmail search works, including tips on how to do more effective searches.

Normal Gmail search behavior

The number of search results displayed is not accurate

It’s OK. The number displayed when you search or create a filter is an estimate. To ensure quick results, Gmail estimates the maximum number of matching messages, which is faster than counting every message. When you apply the filter, Gmail does an exhaustive search that finds the true number of messages.

Searches in Gmail would be very slow if it considered every message in the mailbox every time you ran a search. Gmail only shows 20 messages per page of results because it doesn’t go through all the messages. That’s why the search field might say 120 of about 102 or 120 of many.

When you apply the filter, Gmail searches for every matching message and lists all search results. If you go through all the pages of search results that match your filter, you see that the last page usually doesn't stop on the exact count estimated in the first search.

For example, the search might stop at 104 instead of the estimated 102. The higher the number of search results, the less accurate the estimate. That’s why you see many, rather than an attempted estimate with a high number of results.

Search results coming from an old email

The term me includes all the user's Send mail as addresses. If a user changes their account address but keeps their old one as a Send Mail as address, the search from:me still brings up addresses sent from their old email.

Move to Inbox appears in search results

The Move to Inbox button appears in Gmail search results, allowing you to move messages from any label directly into the inbox. The Move to Inbox option appears even if the message you select is already in the inbox. This works as intended.

Because you can’t move messages or conversations out of a search result, the buttons for that particular result don't change. So, even if your entire set of results is in the inbox, you still see the Move to Inbox button.

You can apply other labels from the menu.

Starred and labeled conversations do not show in searches

Gmail applies labels to messages, not to threads. Individually starred and labeled emails in conversation view might give the perception of inaccurate search results. Even though Gmail treats them as conversations, they’re still individual emails.

This means that the star might apply to only one message, rather than the whole conversation. Or, the label might apply to only one message.


A filter that applies a label might only affect one of the emails in the thread, rather than the entire thread.

For example, you have a thread with two emails. When you do the combined search label:XYZ is:starred, Gmail looks at both of the individual emails in the thread and it sees that only one has the star and the other one has just the label. Since there's no match, the threaded conversation is not shown.

Steps to verify the search results

  1. Turn off conversation view to display all messages individually.
  2. Search for just the label again and note how many stars appear.
  3. Do the combined search.

The results should match.

Searching for part of a number returns no results

This is intended behavior. Gmail can’t search part of a number.

For example, you get invoice 000014762 from a vendor. Later, you search for 14762 to find that invoice and get no results. You must enter 000014762 in the search field to find the email with the invoice.

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