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Search Unread Emails in Primary Tab of Gmail

Yes! there is a way to search only unread emails in Primary Tab.
Samyak Lalit | October 27, 2013 (Last update: September 23, 2017)

Samyak Lalit is an Indian author and disability rights activist. He is the principal author and founder of projects like TechWelkin, WeCapable, Viklangta, Kavita Kosh among many others.

Recently, Google rolled out it’s new tabbed view of Gmail inbox. The main objective behind this change was to automatically sort incoming emails. It was done to save the user from barrage of unsolicited emails that we all usually get from social websites, forums, and promotional activities etc. The tabbed view is working great –so far I have not seen any inconsistency in email sorting. Gmail sometimes put an unsolicited email in the main primary tab but has never put an important email in any other tab but the main one. In one thing, however, these tabs cause a bit of irritation. It is not easily possible to search only unread emails within the Primary tab. When you use the usual method of searching unread emails, that is by using is:unread tag, it returns unread emails not only from Primary tab, but also from all other tabs.

Yes! there is a way to search only unread emails in Primary Tab.

Yes! there is a way to search only unread emails in Primary Tab.

While introducing tabs, Gmail also introduced the category tag to facilitate search within tabs. So, you can use something like:

category:social facebook

and it will return all the emails from social tab with keyword “facebook”

But unfortunately, you can not do the same with primary tab. Although, category:primary tag does exist but it does not really work when you say:

category:primary is:unread

This command will again return all the unread emails from all the tabs.

UPDATE (on 19 August 2015): Google has lately added the feature and now the category:primary is:unread search returns only the unread emails only from primary category!

How to Search Unread Emails Only in Primany Tab?

Well, the solution of this problem is that we subtract all other tabs from the resultset and what remains shall be the results only from primary tab. For example, the following command will return unread emails only from primary tab.

is:inbox -category:(updates OR promotions OR social OR forums) is:unread

Bonus Tips:

To find only read emails: is:inbox -category:(updates OR promotions OR social OR forums) is:read

To find only starred emails: is:inbox -category:(updates OR promotions OR social OR forums) is:starred

To find only chat conversations: is:inbox -category:(updates OR promotions OR social OR forums) is:chat

To find only emails marked as important: is:inbox -category:(updates OR promotions OR social OR forums) is:important

As all these are long and very geeky looking commands, I am sure that soon Google will take notice of this problem and sort it out. Until then the above commands can help quicken your email management.

Let me know how you liked this tip and whether it was useful to you. Thank you for using TechWelkin!


20 responses to “Search Unread Emails in Primary Tab of Gmail”

  1. Mare says:

    Thank you so much! This worked!

  2. Sara Shumway says:

    category:primary is:unread

  3. afd says:

    Found this useful. Is there a way to save these commands?

  4. syed says:

    How and where do i run the above script to retrive unread mails only from my Primary Inbox?

  5. Mister Dif says:

    This didn’t work correctly for me. It got most but not all of the unread emails. However this query did work: label:inbox -category:(updates OR promotions OR social OR forums) is:unread .

    For some reason, have the “label:” in front of the query changed the results. Thanks!

  6. Style Maniac says:

    Thank you! Those unread emails were driving me crazy!
    Using category:primary is:unread worked like a charm.

  7. Noor Khan says:

    Thanks dude. But just out of curiosity is tried “category:primary is:unread ” and alas it works :D. I guess they have added this feature now.

  8. Tobi says:

    Thank you. I knew there would be a way, I just could not figure it out. I would have never figured this out on my own.

  9. Julie Vasconcelos says:

    Thanks so much for this command. I had 2 unread phantom emails. It did return just one result, however. I still have one phantom unread email out there. Oh well.

    • Lalit Kumar says:

      Hi Julie, let me tell you that you're not alone who has been bothered by this one phantom unread email! I personally have seen several times that some of the phantom unread emails just remain as elusive as the Phantom himself! No matter which method you use to find unread emails in Gmail, you'll not be able to see those hidden emails. There is something amiss in Gmail. Nevertheless, Gmail is The Best free email service out there. I am glad that my article helped you to get rid at least of one phantom email! :-)

  10. Beni says:

    Thanks man, you delivered me from an irritating unread mail.

  11. eylül says:

    Very clear and useful, thank you so much!

  12. Carol says:

    Not sure when they did it, but looks like Google updated this. I’m now able to use the following command successfully!

    category:primary label:unread

  13. Anthony says:

    Thanks! Wish this was at the top of the google search instead of four down. This has been bothering me, apparently since 4/23 when I got the email from google hangouts!

  14. Rufus says:

    Thank you, this has been driving me up the wall for weeks! Worked a treat!

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