Email Chain or Email Thread – What’s the Difference?

It is not uncommon to see both ’email chain’ and ’email thread’ being used to discuss fairly lengthy email conversations. It is no surprise that a lot of people get confused about which is the right one. So, let’s take a look at the difference between them, shall we?

Email Chain or Email Thread – What’s The Difference?

Both ’email chain’ and ’email thread’ can mean pretty much the same thing. However, the words ’email thread’ is often used for a group of emails related to the same subject, while ’email chain’ can be used to describe linked emails or forwarded emails.

Email Chain or Email Thread

Sadly, it is difficult to describe the difference between the two of them, mostly because a lot of people do not seem to agree that there is a difference.

In our experience, an ’email thread’ is something that is normally a discussion that is happening between a couple of people. An ’email thread’ often follows the same subject.

An ’email chain’ is a discussion between multiple participants. While it may start off with a discussion about a singular subject, things may deviate off course a little bit.

Honestly, there isn’t a huge amount of difference between the two of them. In theory, both ’email chain’ and ’email thread’ can be used interchangeably. However, in business settings, we recommend that you use ’email thread’ for lengthy conversations with the same person, and ’email chain’ for more mass emails where people are discussing something.

Email Chain

An ’email chain’ is a group of linked emails. It includes all responders, messages in that email, etc. An ’email chain’ may be based around one subject, but this is not always going to be the case. Any group of linked emails can be called a chain.

While The Cambridge Dictionary does not have a definition for ’email chain’, it does have a definition for ‘chain’. This is the same definition that you would use if you were discussing a group of emails:

Here is the definition of ‘chain’:

a set of connected or related things.

To us, this indicates that if an email is connected to another email, it is part of an ‘chain of emails’.

Here are some examples of how to use ’email chain’ and ‘chain of emails’ in a sentence:

  1. The accountant made sure to always include the manager in any chain of emails that involved financial discussions.
  2. A group of friends had their email chain going on for years. It was the best way for them to stay in touch.
  3. The office has an email chain where employees can discuss matters related to the business.
  4. The customer had a complaint, and they wanted the manager included in the email chain.
  5. The office email chain included dozens of employees.

Email Thread

The phrase ’email thread’ is often used to describe a singular chain of emails between two people. This chain of emails will normally be based on the same subject. If more than one subject is discussed, it becomes an ’email chain’.

Dictionaries do not include a definition for ’email thread’, however, The Cambridge Dictionary does have a definition for ‘thread’:

a connected group of pieces of writing on the internet where people are talking about a particular subject.

To us, this would indicate that an ’email thread’ is a discussion about a singular subject, which is different from an ’email chain’ where the subject does not need to be consistent.

Here are some examples of how to use ’email thread’ in a sentence:

  1. The email thread between the salesman and the customer detailed everything about the purchase.
  2. The manager had to start an email thread with human resources due to complaints about one of the employees.
  3. The email thread was getting a bit lengthy, so they decided to move the discussion to the telephone.
  4. The customer had to read the email thread to find pricing details.
  5. An email thread can be tough to keep track of when more than two people are talking.

Which Is Used The Most?

According to Google Ngram Viewer, ’email chain’ is used considerably more often than ’email thread’.

Email Chain or Email Thread usage

This is actually something that is rather surprising to us, mostly because ’email thread’ seems to be the most common word used in the world of business. However, we understand that ’email chain’ can have several uses too, and it is used more often in more casual settings.

Final Thoughts

While the terms ’email chain’ and ’email thread’ can be used interchangeably, it is likely that ’email thread’ is the term used when a singular subject is being discussed, while ’email chain’ is more likely to be used with multiple discussions in the same group of emails.