Viewing a pdf with Preview, I do cmdF to bring up a search box and then enter a word and hit enter.

Basically nothing happens even if it's a word that's obviously present. Sometimes if I smash my hands all over the keyboard and spin around in my chair three times the search suddenly starts working again, but I haven't figured out how to do that trick reliably.

  • 4
    I have the same issue. Seems like the recent Sierra update messed up the Preview.app. It is all over the place.
    – Robert
    Apr 24, 2017 at 18:25
  • 2
    +1 same problem here with 10.12.5 no mention of any fixes in 10.12.6 which is a pending update I have for installing: support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201222 As an alternative try get.adobe.com/uk/reader Aug 14, 2017 at 15:59
  • 4
    The problem remains under macOS 10.13.1. If anything, it seems to have gotten worse over time.
    – Janosh
    Dec 4, 2017 at 13:54
  • 1
    I'll chime in with macOS 10.13.2. I upgraded from Mavericks to High Sierra and noticed this issue pretty quickly. +1.
    – Peter
    Dec 12, 2017 at 19:10
  • 1
    I've encountered this issue sporadically for years, probably on the cats releases. It still occurs on Mojave evidently, and is extremely frustrating.
    – Paul Carey
    Oct 3, 2018 at 23:53

5 Answers 5


I selected the "Table of Contents" in "View Menu" and searched again. It is working. Check the screenshot:

enter image description here

Anyway, make sure that your PDF contains texts and not the image of some texts.

  • 2
    just saw this after upgrading to Mojave, not sure if it changed the app or reset my defaults, but this fixed it.
    – naven87
    Sep 26, 2018 at 5:26
  • 1
    Worked for me on Mojave. Weird.
    – Elliott
    Mar 18, 2019 at 23:06
  • 1
    It works if I select "Thumbnails" instead of "Table of Contents"...
    – ashen
    Mar 20, 2019 at 12:01
  • 1
    "Thumbnails" also worked for me. Good grief Apple.
    – natersoz
    May 16, 2019 at 19:01
  • 1
    Actually it is any resetting to the open window that works. When you hear a beep on a search apple is communicating an error and from them on no search will be highlighted until you reset the open window. Closing the window by Cmd-W and then reopening clears the error everytime. Come on apple, fix it.
    – user30994
    Jan 5, 2020 at 9:13

"BTW, in order to get search working again, you have to close the window (command + w) and reopen on the pdf. Closing Preview all together (command + q) and reopening the pdf doesn't work. This is indeed bizarre." https://discussions.apple.com/message/33927812#33927812

  • This was the only thing that worked. Cmd-W and then open th file again from 'recents'. Good grief Apple. Fix your pdf reading.
    – user30994
    Jan 5, 2020 at 9:02
  • 1
    I'm running Catalina and this won't fix it for me. Feb 6, 2020 at 10:48
  • I really did not expect it, but ⌘+W instead of ⌘+Q, then reopening the file did indeed fix the PDF search (Mojave, 10.14.16) -- takes it from finding nothing with all search strings to finding what you search for. I thought search was broken entirely, but instead there's just this unfortunate bug. In Apple's parlance: not a crasher, but is a regression. There's a chance that it'll be fixed if an appropriate radar is filed.
    – ajmicek
    Feb 18, 2020 at 14:32

I've selected File->Export as PDF - reopened saved file and the Search worked. Looks like some encoding issue.


For what it's worth: in my case the problem seemed to appear when opening a pdf from Finder. Opening the same file via File>Open in Preview "solves" the problem. Unbelievable something as simple as this is still not fixed in Catalina 🙄


I experienced this issue as well. For me at least, the problem was that I got stuck searching the annotations or table of contents, and so generally didn't find what I was looking for there. I was able to resolve this by clicking on the x box in the search panel to exit out of the old search and go back to searching through the whole document.

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