Search smarter with Spotlight on Mac

Does a Spotlight search on Mac not produce the desired result? We explain how you can search faster on the Mac with these smart tips.

Search smarter with Spotlight

Spotlight is the macOS search engine that lets you find things at lightning speed. Often that is very easy: you simply type in the name of the file, folder, program, contact or something else and you get immediate results. But did you know that the search engine can do much more than just find data with the same name? In this tip, we’ll show you how to search smarter with Spotlight by using some of the lesser known search engine features.

  • AND, OR and NOT
  • Search with metadata
  • Search by file type

Spotlight: use AND, OR and NOT

Like the Google search engine, you can refine search results by including AND, OR and NOT in your search. We explain how they work.

  • AND
  • OR
  • NOT

Spotlight smarter search with AND OR NOT


You can add an extra search term with AND. So you will only find results that contain both search terms. If you just want to carry out a broader assignment, you don’t have to work with AND.


Have you forgotten from whom or from which company you received an email? Then you can just search for both with OR. This can also be useful if you do not remember someone’s name, for example for Tom and Thom or Robert and Robbert.


Do you want to omit certain results? Then you can use NOT. An example: You are looking for type: mail date: 6/29/19-25-7-19 NOT date: 7/14/19. This allows you to search for e-mail messages from the period June 29, 2019 to July 25, 2019, with the exception of July 14, 2019. OR is useful if you no longer know exactly what was called or from whom you have already had something.

You can also use a minus sign (-) to exclude certain words. This minus sign stands for ‘AND NOT’. So you search for example holiday -France. All results with ‘holiday’ are shown, unless they also contain ‘France’.

Spotlight: search with metadata

Metadata is the information about a particular file, such as when a file was created, when it was modified, how large the file size is, what its dimensions are, and so on. The metadata also tells, for example, with which device a photo was taken. So if you search for ‘Canon 80D’, you will see all the photos on your Mac that were shot according to the metadata with a Canon 80D camera. Enter a date and you will see the results created or modified on that date.

When you search on holiday type: document, then you only search in documents for the word ‘vacation’.

Search Spotlight metadata Mac

Spotlight: Search by file type

Do you know that a file is a jpg, a pdf or an email? Then add ‘jpg’, ‘pdf’ or ‘mail’ to your search to refine the results. This will bring the file types that match that search to the top. This way you will find things much faster if you get a huge pile of search results. There is an extensive list of commands you can use.

Search by Spotlight Mac file type

Type of part Keyword
Apps type: app
Contacts type: contact person
Folders type: folder
E-mail type: email
Agenda activities type: event
Memories type: memory
Pictures type: image
Movies type: film
Music kind of music
Sound type: audio
PDF type: pdf
Preferences type: system preferences
Bookmarks type: bookmark
Fonts type: font
Presentations type: presentation

You can also write these terms in the plural; that does not matter. Other keywords you can use are prepositions like with, from and On. It is also possible to search by title or author. To use keywords, type the keyword followed by a colon, such as from: Tim.

Did you know that Spotlight also exists on other devices? Check out how Spotlight works on iPhone and iPad in our separate tip.


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