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What is a Recovery Phrase?
What is a Recovery Phrase?

An explanation of what a Recovery phrase is along with some security tips and troubleshooting steps.

Brittany avatar
Written by Brittany
Updated over a week ago

Recovery phrases, also known as ‘seed words’ or ‘mnemonic phrases’, are ordered lists of 12 - 24 words that bring you to specific and unique wallet addresses. Each phrase generates a near-infinite amount of addresses, but always in the same order.

Most wallet interfaces support just one public address and pick the first one from the list. When you use a phrase on MEW web, you’ll see the first five addresses with the option to view more. If you’re using our MEW wallet app, each additional account is just the next address down the list of addresses that are generated from your phrase.

These phrases are meant to be used for recovery purposes only, and not as the main, daily method of wallet access. Like a private key, a phrase represents sensitive information about your wallet and should be treated with great care.

If you lose the phrase or it becomes compromised, we won’t be able to help you. As long as you have your phrase, you have full control over your assets and can restore your wallet in any interface that accepts phrases for recovery (examples include hardware wallets Trezor and Ledger, MetaMask, Trust and many other Ethereum wallets).

Phrases can sometimes be paired with an extra word, also called a passphrase, for added encryption and security. For example, 12-word phrases become 13 words, and 24-word phrases become 25 words. Adding an extra word to the phrase will generate an entirely different set of addresses. This can be useful if you want to create a set of ‘secret’ wallets – even if someone gets your 12/24 word phrase, if they don’t know the extra word, they won’t see those addresses.

MEW web offers the extra word option when using a recovery phrase, but MEW wallet app does not. This means that recovery phrases generated directly on MEW’s website will let you add an extra word at the end, but you won’t be able to access those wallets in MEW wallet app or another interface where an extra word is not supported.

Security tips for using recovery phrases:

  • Don’t keep the words on a computer, write them down on physical paper, multiple times. Keep these lists in easy-to-remember, separate locations.

  • Make sure your spelling is 100% correct. Always double-check your work.

  • Order is important – the phrase will not work in the wrong sequence.

  • Avoid hand-typing your phrase into computers that are connected to the internet.

  • Don’t keep your phrase in an email or cloud-based storage.

Troubleshooting issues with phrases:

  • If you are getting the error ‘Invalid Mnemonic’, make sure that you have written all words correctly, in the right order. All words in phrases come from a specific list. Check your phrase against this list to make sure that all words come from the list and all are spelled correctly.

  • If you can’t find your address after accessing with a phrase,

    • Think back to where you first created the wallet. Did the service require an extra word (13th or 25th word)? If it did, try entering your recovery phrase with the extra word you made. If you already tried that, try entering the phrase leaving the extra word field blank. If neither of these options worked, double-check the order and spelling of all words.

  • Another factor that affects addresses generated by the recovery phrase is the derivation (HD) path. By default, all Ethereum wallets use the same derivation path m/44’/60’/0’/0, but if you are seeing unfamiliar addresses, try other derivation paths just in case you accidentally used a different path when creating your wallet. For more information about Derivation paths, see the 'HD wallet and Derivation paths' article.

  • If you are using your phrase to restore the wallet in MEW wallet app and only seeing the first account, but you were using multiple accounts earlier, just re-add the other accounts again. Since a recovery phrase generates the same addresses in the same order, the re-added accounts will be the same ones as before, with all your balances.

  • If you’re still stuck, reach out to our support team. We’re always happy to help!

    ~ If you haven't already, feel free to check us out on Twitter and Reddit ~


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