How to do Multi-Word PDF Search in Preview

Hi folks!

Question. I’m frequently crippled by not being able to search phrases in PDFs. My current example is that I’m trying to learn Final Cut Pro. The manual is 1000 pages, and the Table Of Contents can only get you so far. Sometimes I want to find mentions of the “Angle Editor”. If I search for Angle, I get lots of false hits. Searching for Editor, the same. I need the phrase “Angle Editor”. But unlike Google, I can’t quote the phrase to find it. If I don’t quote it, I get all hits on EACH work SEPARATELY.

So sadly I end up searching on the web, and find online docs. But I already have a lot of highlighting and notes in my PDF. And frankly, in other uses, there is no web alternative to fall back on.

I haven’t looked at Adobe or other PDF readers in a while.

Do you guys do phrase searches and if so, what app do you use? Or maybe there’s a way to do it in Preview and I’m not aware of how?



Click the Magnifying Glass and change the type to “Exact Phrase.”

Screenshot 2024-03-30 at 1.18.56 PM


:+1: Never knew that!


Omg! I’m going to call this an Easter Egg :hatching_chick: and you the Easter Bunny! :rabbit:



Beautiful. I had just been wondering how to do this.

Except it doesn’t work for me. (Clicking, command-clicking, shift-clicking, option-clicking, control-clicking; they all do nothing.) Is this relatively new? I have Preview 11.0 (1018.6.3) running under macOS Big Sur 11.7.10. Am I too out of date?

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It doesn’t work in Sierra but I’m looking forward to trying it on my more updated machine. It’s long since driven me crazy while trying to search for phases with common words in large documents!

Easter Egg indeed!! :)


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In older versions of Preview, phrases can be enclosed in “quotes”.


Using the “version” feature here to go back in time:

it appears the feature went from quotes in Ventura/13 to the dropdown in Sonoma/14.

This goes under the phrase, “who knew??”

Thanks again!

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Strange! I’m on Ventura, and I have the dropdown. (Quotes don’t work for me.)

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The exact phrase dropdown is in Ventura as well. The only other MacOS I have these days is Mojave, and there is no “exact phrase” dropdown in Preview there.

FWIW I posted about this a few months ago. searching - #4 by ddmiller


I’m on Monterey (12.7.4) and “exact phrase” is there and works as expected, so it’s at least that old.

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If you had asked me, I would have said that I tried this and it didn’t work. Just to be sure, I tried it just now, and it worked. I don’t know what I was thinking.

I use the Pi AI app on my iPhone for this kind of help.
Sometimes it will make a mistake, such as providing info from an older version, but when I call it out it apologizes, explains, and tries again, And it remembers the context, so you can modify the question bit by bit, or veer off in another direction.

Your question can be very complex if you wish. It’s often nearly as good as having an expert assistant at your elbow.

I had not yet discovered this since updating to Sonoma. Thank you!

Apple’s current design “principles” seem to advocate hiding the user interface and seem to prefer hiding it in ways that are not readily discovered short of hovering and clicking every UI element, including empty spaces.

Apple’s mantra used to include usability but now I guess privacy- and security-speak are sufficient to their needs (selling). Not that I have any issue with (or concerns about) Apple’s economic success. I have willingly paid the Apple Premium since 1987 for better experiences than I could get elsewhere. But my experiences would be even better if Apple’s design team were more attentive to usability.


Good stuff on Preview, but @dave1, for a 1000-page PDF, perhaps ChatPDF would be useful at times?

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Did this come out on April 1?

No, it’s been out for quite some time. I’ve played with it a few times—seems to work.

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Makes sense, since there’s so much to hunt through in these larger PDFs. Unfortunately, and ironically, the larger ones are off limits:

(mine is 66 MB).

On the up side, I got to try the proxy icon trick. Since I keep this PDF in Books, I don’t have direct access to the PDF file to upload. But when I open the PDF from Books, it opens in Preview, and which I point I was able to drag the proxy icon into ChatPDF. Handy.

You might try PDF Pals instead. I just had it open a 96MB PDF with no complaints (but a long wait for it to load). According to their site, there is no file size limit.

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The way I solve this is by splitting the PDF into single page PDFs. Then I use the Finder to search. You can then use AND, OR and NOT to search the folder containing the PDFs. If you have the page number in the name of the split PDF you can use the original PDF to get the context.