Is there a way to search for an exact phrase using the mdfind utility? For example, I created two text documents titled "test1" and "test2". The contents of "test1" are:

I love Apple

And the contents of "test2" are:

Apple love I

When I type this in terminal (I placed both files in ~/Documents):

mdfind "I love Apple" -onlyin ~/Documents

I get:


How would I search for the exact phrase "I love Apple" so mdfind only returns results containing those words in that order (in this case only "test1.txt")?

2 Answers 2


You need to escape your quotes like so:

mdfind \"I love Apple\" -onlyin ~/Documents

This results in just the one document being found:


Without escaping them, I don't think the quotes actually get passed to the mdfind command, they're just interpreted by your shell to say that I love Apple is a single argument. With the backslash-escaping, the argument then includes the quote characters.


The double quotes can also be placed inside single quotes:

mdfind '"exact phrase"'

This would search only in the contents:

mdfind 'kMDItemTextContent=="*exact phrase*"'
  • Thanks. This worked too, but drfrogsplat answered first.
    – pasawaya
    Commented Oct 15, 2012 at 6:25

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