What is the correct usage between "a chain of email" and "a chain of emails"? Why?

By "a chain of email" I mean an email thread where many people have chimed in from time to time and that has grown very large over time.

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    You aren't referring to a chain email, are you? – Andrew Grimm Aug 10 '13 at 8:01
  • You haven't made it clear what you're asking here. What are you trying to describe, when you say "a chain of email(s)"? A single email that gets forwarded from person to person to person? A long dialog between two emailers? A series of spam messages that gets sent to multiple recipients? If you explain what you are trying to describe, this question can be reopened. – J.R. Aug 10 '13 at 9:55
  • @J.R I have made it clear what I meant by a chain of email which is essentially an email thread where many people are involved and have participated. – Geek Aug 10 '13 at 11:00

I would call this an email thread, rather than a chain of email. You can read more about email threads here, here, and here, and see if that would be a good term. As one of those websites says:

An email thread is an email message and a running list of all of the subsequent replies pertaining to the original email.

Getting back to your question, mail can be considered a mass noun (much like sand, rice, and money), meaning that it can be tricky figuring out when and when not to pluralize the word.

If, for some reason, you didn't want to use email thread, I would call it a chain of email if it was one message that got forwarded many times. To me, emails connotes several distinct messages from several different sources, not one message that got appended with several subsequent replies.

  • Email thread is what I would use too, since I don't think that in English chain gives a sense of "something very long" as in "a long thread of emails." – kiamlaluno Aug 11 '13 at 23:35

Just as you would say "a pearl necklace" but "a necklace of pearls", so also you would say "an email chain" but "a chain of emails".


Email thread, email chain and email stream can all mean the same thing: a collection of email messages including the original and all subsequent replies and forwards from the original sender, recipients and anyone else who was copied or blind copied.

Such a collection of messages usually maintains the same Subject, but this is not a requirement. Although not recommended, it is usually possible to change the Subject before replying or forwarding.

Please note, the email thread/chain/stream is a collection of the actual messages - not simply a list of the messages.

  • 1
    Please be careful when answering a question. This answer does not explain the "correct usage", as was requested by OP. – Em. Aug 26 '16 at 16:12

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