Apple Mail: Finding, Sorting, & Removing Previous Recipients

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Did you know that your Mac actually keeps a couple of separate contact lists for e-mail addresses? The first one, of course, is your Address Book, where your computer stores contact information that you’ve entered deliberately. The second list is one that Apple Mail keeps without you asking it to—every time you send a message to someone, Mail stores that address for future use. So when you start typing a recipient’s name into an e-mail, Mail will check both of your contact lists for possible matches. 

This is awesome, of course, except when it’s not. So here’s how you can sort and remove out-of-date or incorrect addresses. Your less-plentiful autofill options will be your reward.

To get started and see what Apple Mail has been storing for you, choose the menu item Window > Previous Recipients

That’ll bring up a nifty (and sometimes quite long) list of everyone you’ve ever sent an e-mail to, whether you’ve created a contact card for them in Address Book or not. It’s like an archaeological dig through the layers of your past.

Hopefully your past won’t be as blurry as mine.


There are a couple of things you can do with this information. First of all, note the leftmost column in my screenshot above—if there’s an image of a card there, you’ve already stored the contact info for that person in your Address Book. So you can tell at a glance who made your friendship cut and who didn’t. Sorry, dude who bought me pizza that one time.

As in other places around Mac OS X, you can click any of the column headers to sort by that column. Click the name header to sort by last name, click the date header to sort by date, and so on. But you can also click the header for that first column to sort the folks you have as contacts from those you don’t, which makes it pretty easy to add the missing people to your Address Book.

If you want to go ahead and add someone new to your contacts from this list, select the person and click the Add to Address Book button. You can also click on someone and choose the Remove From List button if you no longer want that address to autofill when you’re composing a message. You don’t have to add or remove folks one by one, either—just hit Command-A to select the entire list first, or hold down Command and click on different people to select a few at a time.

Decisions, decisions.


Finally, you can remove an address right from someone’s message if you want to. Hover over an e-mail address in a message’s header to get the familiar drop-down arrow first:

Then click it to choose an option for that address.

If the person in question has an entry in your previous recipients list but isn’t in your Address Book, you can take him out right from that menu. You can alternatively choose to add him to your Address Book, create a Smart Mailbox for his messages, or start a new e-mail to that address. 

It’s simple! Elegant! Useful! Not particularly intuitive! What? I’m trying to maintain a semblance of journalistic objectivity here. Are you falling for it?

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THANK YOU! I have been passively trying to figure this out for a while. My day is better now.


Yes wonderful advice…

Now try it for real, and I pretty much 100% Guarantee that when you quit and restart Mail all those cursed “unwanted” previous recipients will reappear- yes this bug has plagued my MUG members for ages, and we haven’t been able to beat it yet for those who are afflicted with it, hopefully the new version of Mail in Mountain Lion might finally fix it.

Melissa Holt

Happy to help, thankful-me. smile

Serenak, I’ve been using the Previous Recipients list for years and haven’t had that issue. Boy, that piques my curiosity!

I’d be very curious to know what your MUG members have tried?have they checked out the advice on this thread?


Lee Dronick

Now try it for real, and I pretty much 100% Guarantee that when you quit and restart Mail all those cursed ?unwanted? previous recipients will reappear

I haven’t experienced that. When I delete previous recipients they stay deleted.

Anyway I am not doubting you. Try this trick I found via a web search, it came from the Apple Forums

quit mail and address book and delete the file /users/username/library/application support/address book/MailRecents-v4.abcdmr. then log out/in and start Mail. the previous recipients list should be empty.

If I remember correctly once upon a time we could toggle on or off adding addresses to the previous recipients. There may be a Terminal command to do that.


Great article. I’ve deleted many a pRevious recipient. I WISH I could do the same thing on IOS devices. It seems to be a major oversight.

Melissa Holt

I agree, Paul?it’s a huge oversight. There is a third-party program that’ll let you remove those files (iBackupBot), but you have to wipe and restore your phone to do so. Not very useful!



I agree. each update, I hope its included. I have one email address I made a mistake entering and it almost always defaults to that address. Email gets bounced right and left…VERY Frustrating…

thanks again for the article!


I am SO thrilled to learn how to do this. How do u do it on am iPad?

Melissa Holt

Aw, I’m glad it helped you, Sheri! As far as I know, though, there is no way to do it on an iPad, short of wiping it. :(


Melissa Holt

Hey Sheri,

I totally lied. There is now a way to do it!

While you’re composing an email message on your iPad, begin typing the address you’d like to remove. When you get the list of suggestions below what you’re typing, you should see a blue arrow appear next to any email addresses that aren’t in your contacts list. Click the blue arrow for one you’d like to remove, and choose Remove from Recents.

Neat! I’m gonna have to write a tip about that now, so thank you for inspiring me to poke around on my iPhone. :D


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