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May 7, 2010

More Flexible Gmail Search

Jiri Z. spotted an interesting feature in the Czech interface of Gmail: when searching for words with a lot of inflectional forms, Gmail shows an option to check all the morphological variants. Gmail adds to the query "morph:on" and typically shows more results.

"In grammar, inflection or inflexion is the modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, mood, voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case. Conjugation is the inflection of verbs; declension is the inflection of nouns, adjectives and pronouns. The Slavic languages, including Russian, Polish, Macedonian, Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Slovene among others, all make use of a high degree of inflection, typically having six or seven cases and three genders," explains Wikipedia.

Gmail is one of the Google services with a rudimentary search feature. Unlike Google Search or Google Docs, Gmail doesn't show spelling suggestions and it doesn't search for other forms of your keywords. If you search for "author", Gmail doesn't show messages that include the word "authors"; if you search for "web site", you won't find messages that only include "website".

I tried to add "morph:on" in Gmail's English interface, but it didn't work. Hopefully, Gmail will improve the search algorithms and the operator will be included by default for all languages.

{ Thanks, Jiri. }


  1. They develop things SO COMPLEX, but at the same time simple things like accents are not implemented in the search. If you search for "jose" you have a different list of results than if you'd searched for "josé".

    This bug is VERY old and not fixed until now, and it only exists on Gmail of all Google products.

  2. // After writing this, I read the previous comment... Exactly what I was going to say.

    In Spanish, usually people forget or just don't use the accents on vocals, especially in chats or emails. It is really frustrating having to search for the word with and without an accent to find the correct conversation... This has been one of my major gripes with Gmail search... I hope they solve it some day.

  3. It's strange how Search is at the core of Google's business, yet Gmail's search is its weakest feature.

    A while back I gave this suggestion on their "Suggest a feature for Gmail" page:

    Use Google Search's spelling correction and "did you mean" suggestions when searching into Gmail.

    Eg: *suggest emails about "Mind-maps" if I search for "mindmaps"
    * suggest emails about "Editing" if I search for "edit"
    * suggest emails about "wedding" if I search for "weding"

  4. Wesley & Pharod, not only in Spanish. Poles also do not use the diacritics in chats, because this way is much faster than typing ąężźć. So when we chat we type Krakow rather than Kraków and Poznan rather than Poznań. In emails, however, when the speed of typing is not critical we type Kraków and Poznań.

  5. Google seems to be actively working on the searching of languages, but they have overlooked a very simple (from the gmail users perspective).

    Gmail can't search on wildcards. For gmail users who deal with lots of messages relating to part numbers/codes.

    For example, If I search for 'EMD3*' I would expect to get the following example matches:


    Alas, this still doesn't work, and is a huge draw back to users like me.

  6. Gmail search is so rudimentary because Google has always been a master of search when the information is crawled and indexed. With the sheer amount of email data coming into their servers now, their indexing method for this data is pared down to deal with it all.

    Of course, they've made strides with real-time search with Twitter integration, etc... so, it's only a matter of time before they apply this learned technology back into Gmail, making its search more powerful.

  7. "With the sheer amount of email data coming into their servers now, their indexing method for this data is pared down to deal with it all."

    That would be as opposed to what, the entire web?

  8. IMHO, at this point Gmail's weak search is the only significant failure point of Gmail. (Not displaying the subject line on reply is a major annoyance, but someone can script around that. And I hope someone does. Soon...)

    I'll fully confess that I didn't realize Gmail search couldn't handle wildcards, partial words, etc., for about a month after the place I work for switched over to Google Apps and I lived in it all day all week. Then I started test-searching for specific e-mail I knew was in my account and the limitations became obvious.

    Aside from how weak search is within Gmail, the worst part about Gmail search is that the user assumes it works as robustly as Google Search. "Hmm, search didn't turn up anything. I must not have any e-mail related to that."

    Google, fix Gmail search!


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