How do I search for the emails that belong only to a specified label, and do not belong to any other labels.

  • unfortunately there is no exclusive flag which really sucks.. specifically i want to find all emails that are in label:web and ONLY in that label... no such way of doing it at the moment besides adding -label:other_label -label:another_label and the list goes on... for the hackers among you - yes, grab a flat list of your labels and write a simple script to generate the command you need... – Nir Pengas Dec 26 '11 at 14:44

You can search for emails that belong to a specific label using the

label:mylabel <include search terms here>

syntax, and you can exclude messages from a specific label using the

-label:mylabel <include search terms here>


So what you want can be accomplished using a combination of these both. You have to compose a search string containing a "-label:mylabel" for all the labels that you have defined, except for the one you are looking for, like this:

label:thisisthelabelimlookingfor -label:label1 -label:label2 ... <include search terms here>
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  • 4
    yeah i was thinking on the same lines, but thought maybe there is a better way, with much less typing. I have about a 100 labels defined :( – Midhat Feb 21 '11 at 10:57
  • can i just get a simple plain-text list of all my labels? – Midhat Feb 21 '11 at 10:57
  • @Midhat: Good question. You could access your account using imap, and get a list of all your labels like shown in this answer to a stackoverflow question. But there might be better ways though. – fretje Feb 21 '11 at 12:37
  • I got my plain text label list from Offline Gmail options. it lists all labels, comma seperated. – Midhat Feb 25 '11 at 19:41
  • Also the -label operator didnt work for me – Midhat Feb 25 '11 at 19:41

Not the world's best way but, use the built in labels to your advantage. This assumes you don't care about labels that GMail applies, like Social, Updates, Promotions, or Forums. These labels are not considered USER LABELS (My example user label: Foo)

  1. go to All Mail - Select All Mail and then select 'Select all XXX Messages in All Mail' (apply to every piece of email you have)
  2. use the label menu to unselect one of the GMail Labels (above). I usually use Promotions.
  3. go to the label you are interested in searching (Foo)
  4. Select All and then 'Select all XXX Messages in (Foo)'
  5. use the label menu to select the cleared GMail Label from step #2 (Promotions) - and to unselect the current label (Foo)
  6. now you have all your (Foo) labelled messages, changed to the label (Promotions) - a label which is NOT a user label
  7. go to (Promotions) - add to search: 'has:nouserlabels'
  8. now you have a list of emails that used to be ONLY labelled as (Foo)
  9. go to (Promotions) - select All and then 'Select all XXX Messages in (Promotions)'
  10. use the label menu to add (Foo) to all messages. Everything is back to normal
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Unfortunately, there's no option for NAND operators in gmail, i.e. search for labels, but only those labels.

However, you can shorten your search query with:

  • is: instead of label:
  • - instead of NOT
  • {a b} instead of a OR b
  • (a b) instead of a AND b

For example:

(is:(inbox unread) is:{important wife} -is:{updates "for later"})

Will show Unread in Inbox (not archived), from your wife, or others marked as important. But it will not show Updates or messages labeled for later.

Btw, I find these filters very useful in Multiple Inboxes (in Gmail Settings). Take a look at all Gmail search operators.

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When filtering messages in gmail, they are configured in conversation view by default. The conversation view setting groups emails with the same subject together as a single conversation based message.

So when selecting or navigating the filtered messages, you will see multiple labels on messages that are not relevant to your specified criteria.

Which is displayed as:

Subject: Hello World (2) <label:a> <label:b>
    Message 1 <label:a>
    Message 2 <label:b>

To fix this, go to the Settings -> General -> Conversation view Select Conversation View Off and then click Save Changes. Once the page refreshes, all of the conversations will be broken into individual messages.

Which will now show as:

Subject: Hello World <label:a>
Subject: Hello World <label:b>

For most instances, this should be sufficient to filter messages by a single label.

This does have the negative impact of ungrouping forwarded and reply-to emails into individual messages as well.

However, the setting can be freely changed without losing the conversation groupings, when conversation view is re-enabled.

As for searching with the filters; one of the issues is the modifiers of AND/OR within the context of the values.

  • To specify OR within a group of values, you use curly brackets: {a b}
    • Translates to: a OR b.
  • To specify AND within a group of values, you use parentheses (a b)
    • Translates to: a AND b.
  • To specify a NOT operator on a value you use the minus symbol -a
    • Translates to: NOT a.

This allows you to use them in combination with other operators like label:, from:, to: etc.

A listing of the operators and the modifiers available in gmail can be found on their website https://support.google.com/mail/answer/7190

In general a filter like label:a -label:x -label:y would translate to Has label a and does not have label x and y.

This means messages that have label a and is missing either label x or y will be found:

    Subject: Hello World <label:a>
    Subject: Hello World <label:a> <label:x> 
    Subject: Hello World <label:a> <label:y>

Not Found:
    Subject: Hello World <label:a> <label:x> <label:y>

To filter a group of labels you would need to use a filter like: label:{x y z} to include message that have the labels x, y or z.

To exclude a group of labels, you would use a filter like: -{label:{a b c}} to exclude all messages that have the labels a, b, or c.

To combine the filters it would look like this: label:{x y z} -{label:{a b c}}.

Which translates to: Has labels x, y, or z AND does NOT have labels a, b, or c

You can also combine NOT groupings with additional operators like: -{label:{a b} from:{domain.com}} which translates to does NOT have labels a OR b OR from domain.com

Special consideration; when searching for values that contain spaces, wrap the value in quotes "..." to ensure an exact match. Otherwise it will consider the space(s) as an AND or OR modifier depending on the grouping context (use of curly brackets or parentheses).

Like so: label:{My Label} should be label:{"My Label"}.

So to answer the original question to find messages that only contain a single label of My Label and no others, you would use: label:"My Label" -{label:{"label 2" "label 3"}}

   Subject: Hello World <label:My Label>

Not Found:
   Subject: Hello World <label:label 2>
   Subject: Hello World <label:label 3>
   Subject: Hello World <label:My Label> <label:label 2>
   Subject: Hello World <label:My Label> <label:label 3>
   Subject: Hello World <label:My Label> <label:label 2> <label:label 3>

Sadly you would need to explicitly define all excluded labels, as there is not an operator to specify only label. Keep in mind you will want to disable conversation view, to prevent the grouping of the messages that also contain the excluded labels.

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