One of my favorite things about software is when they provide you lots of different options so you can customize it to work the way you want it. One of my least favorite things is when they make the option I don’t like the default :).

Recently I’ve seen several comments from friends about how they hate that Gmail and Yahoo Mail now thread email conversations instead of simply displaying all the received messages in chronological order. In this post, I’m going to show you how to change it back to unthreaded, with an added bonus of showing you how to do it in some other popular email clients as well.

What is Threading?

Threading is when your email service sorts your messages so that all the replies and forwards are grouped together rather than just listing them in the order they arrived in your Inbox. It’s also referred to as “conversations.” The screenshots below show an example of each type in Gmail.

Unthreaded
This is what I consider the standard view of an Inbox. As each message comes in, it gets added to the top of the list. It doesn’t include any of the related sent messages.

Threaded
This is what the Inbox looks like when the messages are threaded.

You’ll see the first item shows a “(4)” in it to indicate there are four messages in the conversation, because it includes both the messages sent and the messages received. If you click on that item, you’ll see all four messages, with the most recent one (at the bottom) fully expanded.

Note also that the Inbox list has the two unrelated messages that came in between the messages in the conversation showing below it. This is why I don’t like the threaded list. My brain expects to see the messages in the order they came in. It may not look that bad in this example where there’s just one threaded conversation, but when there are a lot more I find the whole thing confusing to follow, especially when you add forwarded messages into the mix.

Also note that if someone changes the subject line along the way, that message is no longer included in the conversation, adding yet another level of confusion.

Turning Threading On and Off

In Gmail on Desktop

  1. Click the gear (Settings) icon at the top right.
  2. Go to Settings > General.
  3. Click the radio button for turning on/off the Conversation View.
  4. Click the Save Changes button.

In Gmail Mobile Apps

In August 2018, Google FINALLY added the ability to turn off conversation view in their Android and iOS apps.

HALLELUJAH!

via GIPHY

To turn off conversation view, go into the Gmail app’s Settings and select one of the listed mail accounts. You’ll then be taken to a screen that gives you an option to turn threading on or off.

Android

iOS

This change will only apply to that specific account, so you’ll need to go back and select any other ones you have if you want to apply it to those as well.

(Side note: I actually discovered this a few hours after I had been ranting to a friend about how Google kept refusing to do this. Time to start ranting about some other stuff methinks… 🙂 )

In Yahoo Mail

  1. Click the gear icon at the top right.
  2. Go to Settings > Viewing Email.
  3. Check or uncheck the box for turning on/off the Conversation View.
  4. Click the Save button.

In Outlook 2007/2010/2016

  1. Click the View ribbon.
  2. Check or uncheck the Show as Conversations box.

Note that if you turn on the conversation view, you have several more options to choose from. (I can’t figure out what “Show Senders Above the Subject” does because checking/unchecking it doesn’t appear to make any difference in my case.) Thank you to reader Ajda for pointing out that the “Show Senders Above the Subject” option applies when your Outlook window is too narrow to show both sender and subject line on the same line, so you can choose which one is above and which one is below.

In Windows 10 Mail

  1. Click the Settings button at the bottom of the left-hand sidebar.
  2. Click Reading.
  3. Scroll down to the Conversation settings and set the “Show messages arranged by conversation” to On or Off as desired.

In Apple iOS

Thanks to T4L reader Arnold for sharing this information about how to turn off threading on the iPhone and iPad! Note that the option is also available on my iPhone 4S with iOS 9.3.5.

There is a ‘Threading’ option (on or off) in Apple/IOS (version 10 at least – not sure about older versions) phones.

To disable (bc I loathe threading), go to ‘Settings’ | ‘Mail’. Scroll towards the bottom and there is a section labeled ‘Threading’. The first line in this section reads ‘Organize by Thread’ with the switch to enable or disable. I moved to the left to disable and my threading is gone!

UPDATE: The iOS 10 update has caused other sorting problems. Apple added a new option for “Most Recent Message on Top” but the default setting is Off, so messages are no longer in order. Go to the Settings > Mail > Threading section to set it to On. (There’s also a new setting for “Complete Threads” that you can try out to see if you like it or not.) Huge thanks to T4L reader Orla for sharing this info with T4L!

How about yourself? Do you prefer your messages threaded or unthreaded? Let me know in the comments below!

You may also be interested in:

Automatically Move Gmail Messages from Promotions to Primary Tab

Fix Email Issues Caused by Upgrading Your iPhone/iPad to iOS 10

Send and Receive Non-Gmail Email from Gmail

Manage Your Outlook Email More Easily with Quick Steps

Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • I updated to the latest version of the gmail app in Android and I don't see that conversation view checkbox available.

    • Hmmm... I have Version 8.10.21.220187835 on Android version A520WVLUSCRJ3/A520WOYA5CRJ3/A520WVLU5CRJ3 and the option is still available.

      To see it, you have to go into the Settings for each individual email account you have set up through the app, not the General Gmail settings. The checkbox is in the General section between Mobile signature and Smart Reply.

  • Sorry Luddites but in a fast paced environment where email is almost used like a group chat, conversation/threaded view keeps my inbox manageable. Coming back to 3 conversations after lunch vs 40 emails convinced me to never go back. The only problem I had to fix was getting the latest message on top (in what world does scrolling though 40 emails to get to the last message make sense?) and corresponding with folks using the "other" email clients that copy the entire thread in each email.

  • In a fast paced environment where email is almost used like a group chat, conversation/threaded view keeps my inbox manageable. Coming back to 3 conversations after lunch vs 40 emails convinced me to never go back. The only problem I had to fix was getting the latest message on top (in what world does scrolling though 40 emails to get to the last message make sense?) and corresponding with folks using the "other" email clients that copy the entire thread in each email.

  • OMG, thank you SO MUCH, I have been hating this and to add insult to injury, I couldn't even seem to formulate the question precisely enough to get help with the issue. The other day, upset about something else, I started reviewing email and immediately this same damn thing is going on, I've got to fix it, search again for help but always they're just slightly off on what my problem is, it's not the theme for instance!--and it was just too much and I just burst into tears!
    Admittedly, there was more in play than a minor irritation over an email setting, but "the last straw" can easily be provided by such a minor irritation as this, and I'd rather not burst into tears over it if it can be helped, so I had to say thanks and also I appreciate your clear writing style which better expressed the issue and why it's a problem and so it also helps me to understand related questions. Much appreciated.

      • Thanks so much!!! I am really grateful for your help on this matter.
        Ever since I migrated from Outlook to Gmail this was really the only feature that was killing me.
        THANKS. THANKS. THANKS
        If you ever come to Madrid, I buy you LUNCH!

  • Thank you for explaining how to turn off conversations in gmail. I am thrilled. It was too confusing for me with that treading nonesense.

    • Sorry for the delay in replying. I discovered this myself by accident as well and have updated the post with this great news!

  • Can I just tell you how much this helps me! I was trying to forward emails to a bank for an error they made concerning my taxes. I also wanted to stab myself in the eye with a fork ;). I was about to start copying and pasting emails because the giant thread was an enormous mess, and this was my only proof of their error. Thank you!!!

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