How-To Geek

Learn How to Use Windows 7’s Advanced Search Operators


While many people feel searching in Windows is less than ideal, 7’s abilities are fairly amazing. The big trick to unlocking them, however, lies in Advanced Query Syntax. Using these advanced operators can make finding files dead simple.

Advanced Query Syntax

Windows 7 eschews a proper “Advanced Search” option in favor of using Advanced Query Syntax. It was developed alongside the Windows Search tool and has been seamlessly baked into 7’s goodness.


AQS allows you to use special operators and searching syntax to quickly pare down results. The biggest benefit to this is that if you know the operators, you can find results more quickly because you can type faster than you can click. AQS feeds off of natural language keywords along with specific operators to get the job done. You enter your search terms, you put down an “operator,” then follow up with a “property” that can be mathematical, from a specific list, or from everyday speech.

If you refuse to memorize things on principle, though, you don’t need to worry; you can add operators and select properties with the mouse, as well. The best part is you can use AQS anywhere you search, including the two most prominent areas: the Start Menu and in Explorer windows.

Searching and Omitting

Pop open an Explorer window and search for something. I searched for “photo” because I’m looking for things with that in the title or location.


But, let’s say I wanted to eliminate anything that had “adobe” in the title or location? That’s easy! Just add a dash before words you want to “subtract” from your results.


You can see that my search options changed a bit. If you want to search for exact phrases, you can use quotes (just like with Google).


It’s important to note that Windows Search does not differentiate between letter case.

Here’s a list of AQS operators that have to do with text searching:

  • NOT/- : Both “not” as well as prefixing a dash will tell your search to exclude items that include the following term.
  • AND/+ : Both “and” as well as prefixing a plus sign will force your search to only include items that match for both terms.
  • “” : Using quotes will force a search to filter for an exact phrase.

Kinds and Types of Files

Let’s take things a bit further and search for a specific kind of file. If you click on the search terms, you should see a box pop up asking if you want to add a search filter.


If you select “Kind,” you’ll get a drop-down list of different types of files. “Picture” seems appropriate in my case.


You can also choose “Type” instead.


Now you can choose a specific extension or a group of extensions for a known type. For example, you can search with the extension “.jpg” or you can search for “JPG File.” The latter will pick out “.jpg” and “.jpeg” files.

Date and Size

Maybe we knew we had edited the file at some point. Choose “Date modified” and you’ll be able to select a range of dates with your mouse.


Yes, I searched for modified files from midnight to several days into the future. Sometimes, you just want to be sure.

Alternatively, you could also use the following syntax instead of using the mouse:

search terms >mm/dd/yy

search terms datemodified:mm/dd/

search terms date:past month

As you can see, AQS accepts a very diverse set of operators and mathematical and natural language cues.

You can search for size in a similar fashion:

search terms size: gigantic

search terms size:>= 128mb

The “size” operator has a list of properties that correspond with specific file size ranges.

  • Empty: 0kb files
  • Tiny: 0-10kb
  • Small: 10-100kb
  • Medium: 100kb-1mb
  • Large: 1mb-16mb
  • Huge: 16mb-128mb
  • Gigantic: larger than 128mb

These can come in handy if you know that you resized a pic, for example, and it wasn’t the huge 6 MB JPEG it was originally. You can search with “size:medium” for the smaller file.

Searching with Natural Language

As mentioned, a huge (64mb) advantage is that if you know the operators, you can use normal words as properties. This makes AQS fairly easy to learn and use daily. There’s such a wide plethora of options out there for you search with. Here are a few more examples:

size:>=3mb <=9mb

author:(Yatri OR Geek)


type:music bitrate:>=160kbps

Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Because AQS has this crazy range of input, here are a few guidelines you should follow, in general:

  • Operators that use multiple words should not have a space. “datemodified” instead of “date modified”
  • The operator should have a colon directly after it, and no empty space following. “size:>10mb” and NOT ”size: >10mb” or “size :>10mb”

While your results may seem unaffected for some searches, they may not work properly with others. It’s best to stick to the scheme outlined above.

Oh, and of course, you can stack multiple operators together:


For more information about what operators you can use with AQS and what properties they take, check out Microsoft’s article on Windows Search AQS.

Have you found any neat tricks with AQS? Share your search prowess in the comments!

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 09/6/11

Comments (20)

  1. SuAlfons

    I’m unable to find folders that were created or modified before a certain date. It gives me ZIPs and links, no other files and certainly no folders at all.

    Annoyingly, the syntax is translated to your language: art:ordner +änderungsdatum:<‎01.0‎1.‎2011

    Any ideas what I'm doing wrong? I could use this to check if there are any old files left that are due to be archived. A, and it's a server share, of course. Nothing beyond current work supposed to be saved on your local harddrive.


  2. Jamie

    Great tips!

    When I click in the search box, I only see “Date Modified” and “Size” as search filter options to add. I’m running Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit. Do I need to change a setting somewhere to make the other search filters available?

  3. john3347

    This procedure further complicates a procedure that is already MUCH too complicated for the “typical home user”. A simple choice of searching the entire computer or all user files for a file name containing a certain word or certain combination of words; or searching the entire computer or all user files for files whose contents contain certain words or combination of words would be a worthwhile search engine. Would take a few seconds longer to perform a search in many cases, but would be times over more effective at finding a searched-for file. Windows 7 is so notorious for putting saved files where it wants them instead of asking where the user wants a file saved that the directory sensitive search procedure is EXTREMELY ineffective for finding a file that you saved and forgot to specify where to save the file. Your procedure here does not solve the number one search problem that most people experience.

  4. Fer

    Hi Jamie,

    Just type the filter in the search box. I have to type them as well.


  5. TsarNikky

    John 3347 you are absolutely right! Windows-7 search is way too complicated. One should be able to enter a file’s name in the “Search” box and have Windows-7 search your entire computer and return any matches. XP was wonder in that respect. If one wants to get complicated in doing a search, make that process complicated–not just the generic search routine.

  6. Oldmartian

    So this applies to files stored on “My Documents,” or “My Pictures,” etc.?

  7. Jim Strampe

    I’m trying to follow this thread and also agree the the Win 7 Pro file search isn’t easy. I cannot find a word doc (any .doc or .docx) by searching for *.doc or .doc, etc even though I can open a folder and see bunches of them. This fails with other file types as well. Can the files or folders be somehow excluded in the search? Any suggestions how to get it like XP Pro File Manager search?

  8. Jeremy

    I hate windows search now. On some of my computers, search MAY decide to run when I enter something in the box and other times it won’t at all. In the cases where it DOES decide to actually look for something, it frequently returns results that do not include what I’m looking for. When I browse around I’m able to find it anyway. I just use Agent Ransack instead because, guess what? It works! And I can use regular expression search too.

  9. Jim

    Here’s another vote for XP search was/is better than Vista/7 search. Accuracy trumps speed.

  10. Richard Mann

    I too have trouble with Windows Search overlooking things I KNOW are in there. For file name searches, you can’t beat Search Everything, a freeware program. I run it on ALL my computers.

  11. Ian

    Jim Strampe try type:doc. Then you can sub search the results with out retyping. eg. add +jim and you will get all the doc files with your name in the filename or in the doc.!!!!!!!!

    I think this is a great tool for tracking things down if you aren’t too sure what you are looking for.

  12. Ian

    It would have been great if they had included a pop up tool tip with the operators.

  13. Paultx

    On both my workplace PC and my four home PCs I get only the Date modified and Size options. How I wish I could have Kind and Type! What is wrong with my systems? All of them are Windows 7 (one Ultimate, one Professional, and three Home Premium).

  14. Bob

    Search works for me. Type *.doc and that’s what I get. Not sure what others are doing wrong. (w7 64bit)

  15. danhasmail

    I too, do not like Windows 7 search. I wish Microsoft would change it to be more like Windows Xp and then make it a Windows update.

  16. Doug.S

    Win search is way too slow and misses parts of HD

    I use “Search Everything”, simple, free, fast.

  17. Howie

    I just downloaded FileLocator Lite (Agent Ransack) and like it.
    It’s a lot more like Win XP’s search.

    Thanks for the tip, Jeremy!

  18. John

    Not only is the search process not easy, the indexing in the background all the time slows the computer processes down. I don’t care if it is to speed up searches, it consumes too many resources. I turned of as much indexing as I could find but it still sits there with a spinning mouse when I want to do something else

  19. Aziz

    What if you want to search file contents? You usually do not get the option to search contents until windows performs a search on file names. If you already know you are looking for a phrase in a file, is there a way to do it?

  20. Eric

    I have also used “file:” and “folder:” to help with searches, and seems faster when Windows knows whether you’re searching for a file or folder.

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