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Can I Stop or ‘Un-send’ an Email I Sent by Mistake?

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I wrote an email from my Yahoo email account and sent it to the wrong email address in Europe. Is it any way I can retrieve the email I sent to the wrong email address and delete it before the wrong recipient can read my email?

No.

There are a couple of exceptions (one of which isn’t really an exception at all), but the answer you need to keep in mind and always remember is simply no.

Once email has been sent, it has been sent. It cannot be “unsent”.

I’ll describe why that is and what those so-called “exceptions” are all about.

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When you hit Send…

When you hit the Send button, the following happens:

  • If you’re using a PC-based email program, like Outlook or Thunderbird, the email is sent from your machine to your email provider. (If you’re using a web-based email service, the message you were composing is already on their servers.)
  • The email is sent from your email provider to the email provider of your recipient.
  • The email is placed in the recipient’s online inbox1.
  • If the recipient is using a PC-based email program, it is downloaded to the recipient’s machine.

Two things are important to realize about that scenario:

  • The first three steps – up to and including arrival in your recipients’ online inbox – can happen in seconds2.
  • Regardless of which steps have or have not occurred, it’s all out of your control once the sequence begins.

Once an email leaves your outbox, you lose all control over it. And I do mean all control over it. You cannot stop it. You cannot change it. You cannot track whether it’s been read or not. You cannot tell if it’s been forwarded or deleted. You can’t even know whether it’s been received, unless you get some kind of response from the recipient.

Not really an exception: Gmail

Many people point to a feature in Gmail and tell me, “But, but … Gmail lets you unsend!”

Gmail Undo Send

No. No, it does not.

What Gmail calls “Undo Send” should be called “Delay Send”.

When enabled, all this option does is delay sending your message for up to a maximum of 30 seconds. During that time, you can cancel or “undo” the send.

Once those few seconds has passed, the message is sent.

And once it’s been sent, it cannot be un-sent.

All this feature does is give you a few seconds to change your mind. After that, you’re out of luck.

An actual exception: some corporate systems

Undo“Corporate” here is really just a characterization, because of course these email systems may be used elsewhere. It’s just most common to see them in large corporations.

Some of these email systems have a real, honest-to-goodness un-send option.

However, there are two requirements:

  1. Both the sender and the recipient must be on the same corporate email system. I’m not talking about Gmail or Hotmail or whatever, here. I mean that both sender and recipient likely work for the same company and use the same email system as provided by that company.
  2. The email has not yet been read by the recipient.

In that case, it’s possible that an un-send function will actually remove your message from the inbox of the recipient(s).

Hopefully this is obvious, but once they’ve read the message, there’s no way to make them un-read it. Once seen, it cannot be unseen. You might be able to “remove the evidence”, in that the message may disappear from their inbox, but even then, they could have copied or printed it before that happened.

And again, this is not, not, NOT available with the email services available on the internet, and not something that would work between different email services even if it was.

“Recall” can actually make the problem worse

Some email programs and systems offer a function called message recall.

The intent was to provide a semi-standard way to “recall”, or bring back, a message that had been sent: a way to un-send it.

The problem is that it’s not implemented (or it simply doesn’t work as intended) in most email programs. When I’ve seen this attempted, the cure seems much worse than the disease.

When recall is used, it sends another email message to all the recipients of the original message which says:

{Sender} would like to recall the message {Subject}

I’m sure the idea is that the message would never be seen by the recipients, and the mail programs would just recognize some special headers and perform the recall function by deleting the original message from the recipient’s inbox.

In practice, that’s not what happens. What happens instead is that everyone who got your first message by mistake now gets this second message, drawing even more attention to your mistake.

I’m sure it works on some systems somewhere, but make darned sure you understand whether or not it will. Otherwise, it’ll just make people pay more attention to your original mistake. Much like a politician attempting to delete evidence from the internet, there’s a very good chance that all it will do is make people take even more notice of whatever it is you’re attempting to hide, and perhaps make copies that are even further out of your reach.

The moral of our story

There is no “undo send”.

Even if you could undo a sent email, you still run the risk of people reading the email before you hit Undo.

Once email is sent, you lose all control over it; all control.

Bottom line: make sure you really mean it when you hit Send.

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Footnotes & references

1: We normally think of web-based email services like Hotmail or Gmail having online (or web-based) inboxes. In reality, almost all email services provide web-based interfaces, even if they are never used. Email can appear in these web-based inboxes almost immediately.

2: Even though the entire infrastructure of email is designed to tolerate delays measured in days, and we occasionally see that, more often than not email is delivered in a matter of seconds.

93 comments on “Can I Stop or ‘Un-send’ an Email I Sent by Mistake?”

  1. Actually I beg to differ with “You cannot track whether it’s been read or not. You cannot tell if it’s been forwarded or deleted. You can’t even know whether it’s been received at all”.

    The first and 3rd parts are false (the 2nd is true). You CAN tell if it’s been read, if you attach a read receipt to the message. Similarly, if you request a delivery receipt, you can have the receiving system tell you when the message has been delivered to the receivers mailbox.

    Now for the caveats: Read receipts are often optional. The receiver can choose whether or not their email program will send them, some don’t.

    And the delivery receipt fires when the email enters the users mailbox. It does NOT mean that the receiver has seen the email message, just that it’s entered the users mailbox.

    Think of it like postal delivery. You get notified that the mail you sent has entered the users mailbox but you don’t know if the user has walked down to the mailbox and collected the mail. They might not get to their mailbox for two or three weeks, but the mail’s been sitting there for all that time, and the next time they get to their mailbox they’ll get the mail.

  2. Actually, I disagree. Sort of.

    Absolutely all those things are intended to do what you state. The problem is that they only work *sometimes*. ALL reciepts are “optional” based on the user’s email client, his or her preferences, and in many cases even the email server they’re using.

    What I’ve found is that reciepts are DISabled (or disallowed) a surprisingly high percentage of the time. So much so as to make them, effectively, useless, and as a result, pointless to recommend.

  3. A one chance in a million happened to me. I was Replying to a letter from a relative. In my reply I told about some problem I had with another relative .

    WELL…..After clicking on Send the person’s name I had wrote ABOUT appeared as well as to the one the email REPLY should have ONLY gone to. I was VERY VERY UPSET .

    I don’t know how in the World this could have happened!! The other persons name wasn’t on the original letter and I certainly didn’t click on it by mistake. I use Hotmail and this has never happened before……..and of ALL the names it could have put on it was the one I wrote about!

  4. If e-mails are held by the server for a while cannot they be returned to the original sender if they have been sent in error to the wrong address?

    I have notified support that I did this today 26 September 2005. I hoped the message (sent to the wrong person) could therefore be aborted.

  5. The mail is typically held until the recipient downloads their email. Theoretically, yes, one could remove the mail before they do so, BUT … I know of NO ISP that will actually take the time to do so. It it labor intensive, and most ISPs are simply too busy with other things.

  6. Hi Leo,

    what if the email is still in the outbox, but it is sending / transmitting? Is there a way to stop it, delete it….it’s 15MB and I don’t want it to go out? Help….

    • May I ask what happens to the mail then? I have done this whilst forwarding a mail from my Iphone to the wrong client. It had a lot of large attachments, so I have enabled flight only mode and disconnected. Then I deleted it from my outbox. Does it mean that somewhere on the mail server the attachments that did make it is still there even though the recipient did not receive the mail?

      • There are no guarantees, but if it never made it out of your outbox, then any copies — partial or otherwise — that made it to the server should have been deleted.

  7. I’m using Outlook 2002 (not an exchange client). Is a message sent if you delete it from the sent items folder before the send/receive operation begins?

  8. You can only retrieve an email sent by mistake if you have Outlook 2003 with Exchange server on both ends, sender and destination. Go to “Sent ” folder, open the email, go to Actions or Options, click on “Retrieve this message”. Then you can delete or replace the involved message, provided the destination HAS NOT read the email yet.
    Regards

    Mat

  9. Hi, For all on this crazy ride we call cyber space. Please be careful what you write and then WHO you send it to. I sent a very harsh and revealing email regarding someone I JUST broke up with to a friend ….I thought, but SHE got it ! It has been the most horrible and heart renching experiance. ….You just CANT take back what you say !! Be Aware

  10. I do a lot of long emails and so often they are saved as a draft, over & over. I accidently hit the send on a junky draft that I was using to cut, paste, copy, etc. I was and still am quite embarrassed over it. I quickly sent them an email pleading with them to delete it without reading it. From now on, I will NEVER start composing an email with their name/address on it. The TO: line will be left blank until I am absolutely ready to send it. It was a horrible way to learn a lesson. Why can’t there be a verification window pop up like when you are deleting something? It should have the name on it to verify that you have even put in the right recipient, such as poor Kyle who thought he was sending an email to a friend but instead it went to the ex-girlfriend, who will probably always be an EX since she was the one to get the email. Placing these 2 questions in the window: Are you positive you are REALLY ready to send, and is this REALLY the contact you are sending to, both of those questions could really help the sender who is rushed or preoccupied to come back to earth and turn their porch light on. Isn’t that a possibilty for “PATCHES” to make happen? I am 100% the opposite of geek, and had to have a name for the dude/alien “inside my computer” who corrects/updates/fixes/ and sometimes turns my computer off when I’m not looking.

    I have just spent well over an hour that I don’t have anymore, trying to find a way to transfer my small list of address from one email account to one of my other email accounts without copying them down with the old-fashion method of pen & paper, and then individually, retyping the contacts into each mail account. Spent forever scrolling down this one info site thru hundreds of questions, mostly how do I find an email address, or I’m trying to find Uncle Joe, and even how can I get my boyfriend’s password, because I think he’s cheating on me, and then there was one that should have gone to Dear Abby such as, how can I get this boy to notice me?! Doesn’t even have anything to do with computers! Just thought of something, maybe there is a computer out in cyber space that is attracted to Patches.

    Anyway, between all that time spent looking for my answer I could have done it manually ten times over, and another 10 times with the time I’ve spent writing to a stranger! I’m suppose to be packing, and I’ve done 4 boxes with a closing taking place in 8 days. Eight days for and after living in this house for ten years with 2000 sq ft filled completely, along with a garage and 2 outdoor sheds. I’m the one that should be writing to Dear Abby, or for as chatty as this has become I should re-route to a chat room where I’ve never gone. I’ve never even spoken to a stranger on the computer, this is kind of like being on a an airplane giving the story of my life to the person sitting next to me! I have got to pack, time is still rushing by and here I sit, writing nonsence. God should have given us a pause button. I bet you would like me to click on delete. I’m sorry, I would delete, but its too long and I’m out of time. Did I ever ask my question? Whoops, I see a preview button, but I’m oout of time…

    Please forgive the lie, because I haven’t previewed it. If I delete I’ll never find out how to transfer an address(es), and now I don’t even have time to do it manually. I bet you think I’m sending this from the Looney Bin in Tim-buc-two! I forgot to put my name and email address down so this all came back, and as soon as I send it I’m thinking, WAIT, STOP, don’t go anywhere, COME BACK! And it did. So, what do I do, I write some more! But, hey, I found out I wasn’t lying afterall, because it wasn’t my comment (book) I was suppose to preview, so yes, I did read the article in full. I also looked around your site for a bit, and I will send you a cup of coffee, in fact I owe you a big bag of beans for having to read my bag of beans! I’ve not used PayPal for a couple of years, and I know my CC number is different, and I really don’t have time, so when I get moved… I really will, and I will even be able to afford the big bag of beans then because escrow check will be in hand. There is a story that goes along with the escrow check, but I’ll send that to Abby, nah – I’ve never cared to ask a newspaper for help, and certainly don’t understand how a newspaper can help. It’s probably one of Patches’ relatives that answer anyway, and most likely one of the nuts that everyone has in their family tree.

    Yes, I probably am writing this from the looney bin, since I think in this case its THE STATE OF MIND!

  11. What if you sent an email from a hotmail address to another hotmail address and you need to unsend it before recipiant reads it,can you? I know I can on AOL. Just as long as it was sent to another AOL account.

  12. So how do you propose people go about fixing this? I mean, what should you do if say, you sent an e-mail detailing explicitly what you would like to do with your girlfriend sexually if she was in New Zealand with you, TO THE WRONG PERSON?! Not even just the wrong person, but someone who would not even appreciate the humour in the situation. This is bad. This person is not in New Zealand. Not even in the same hemisphere, so running over to their house and deleting the e-mail is NOT an option. How do I fix this? Beg the reciever to disregard the e-mail? Any tips on a good way to go about this? Does this even work? Wouldn’t the reciever be too curious when they recieve an e-mail begging them to delete another e-mail you sent them? I need help. Damn hotmail Favourite Contacts sidebar.

  13. There is no technical solution. It’s been sent and you can’t unsend it. All you can do is send a follow up email explaining and appologizing, if that’s appropriate.

    Been there, done that. Though not with the kind of content you’re talking about :-).

  14. WE WISH!!!!!!!!!! Yup, I just sent a nasty email about my professor to my friend in the class BUT I accidentally sent it to my professor!!!! So much for getting an A in his class!!!! : ( I now know how all you feel right now. I felt like a even bigger dumb*** writing an apology note. Stupid technology.

    • I’m a professor. I can assure you that even the harshest email would not affect your grade in the class if you professor is remotely professional.

  15. How can i find out if a hotmail addess to which a message was inadvertently sent is valid? I made a typo and I do not know if the name exists.

  16. —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    To the best of my knowledge, you cannot. If you don’t get a bounce back there’s
    still no way to tell if an address is valid.

    Leo

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFHN8WJCMEe9B/8oqERAp23AJ4udrordaFRP9lkqiKktj/lSryWTgCfcu/v
    QX35tK34Ep4jl+gpWhZWmfQ=
    =lT51
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

  17. If you use a software you can track your email but not recall it. Except if you are using the same exchange server.

    No. You cannot reliably track email.

    Leo
    26-Sep-2009

  18. if its in the outbox because it failed to send will automatically resend? or can i stop it if i deleted it first?

  19. Actually if you use AOL mail, you can UNSEND an email at ANY TIME, so long as they reciever has not opened the email yet.

    So, YES you can stop an email from being sent, if you sign up with AOL. (They’re free)

    That might be true only for email sent to another AOL account. For email sent to other services it is most certainly not true.

    Leo
    30-Jul-2010

  20. Actually you can stop an email from reaching the wrong person by deleting the sent email. First you go to your SENT Folder. Then you check mark the box next to the message you sent by mistake. Then lastly you delete the message from the SENT Folder, then it wont go to the receiver of the message after all.

    This is incorrect. It works only on some very specific email systems that 99% of average users do not use.

    Leo
    01-Nov-2010

  21. I want to retrieve an email i sent through my hotmai account. how do i do this?

    If by “retrieve” you mean recall/unsend, please read the article you just commented on. It answers this question.

    Leo
    19-Nov-2010

  22. I tried to unsend an email from my AOL account to another AOL account holder. It had not yet been read. Got a message saying “Sorry, this feature no longer available.” How can I unsend it?

    Looks like you cannot.

    Leo
    05-Jan-2011

  23. i was emailing back and forth a person from a service that i was using and then after i transferred money to them my email thread from them got erased on my computer. only the computer that i was using and my cell phone that had retrieved those messages and only from that person. is there software that hackers can use to do that or was this the product of a virsus and just coincidental?

    Outside of malware I’m not aware of a way to do it on purpose. A lot depends on what email program and service you’re using.

    Leo
    01-May-2011
  24. I love the very first commenter, who says you’re wrong about tracking and reading verification, because you can use delivery receipts and return receipts for this, and then immediately goes on to say that they’re optional and are usually turned off. 🙂

  25. Actually, I think email providers and developers should rename their Send buttons, to read “Think first, then Send”…

    You know … it wouldn’t help. You may have noticed that the button to post a comment here says “I’ve Read the Article – Post My Comment”. You simply would not believe the number of people who post a comment who CLEARLY have not read the article. People who are intent on doing something will find a way to do it, no matter how much we try to steer them to safety.

    Leo
    27-Jul-2012
  26. I use a method that allows a 2nd chance when hitting Send without thinking.
    I have my OE set to not “send immediately.”
    The message is moved to my outbox & sits there until I hit Send again from the main page.

  27. Re: recalling a sent item – this is why I invented the onosec (like the nanosec, etc.). This is where, having pushed the send key, you say “OH NO!” —
    Rob Stuart-Vail [email address removed]

    • Gmail beat you to it. As Leo mentioned, it has an option for up to 30 ‘onoseconds’ of delay to send, though it’s called ‘undo send’. I’ve actually found it most useful.

  28. When I write a new email I leave the “To” box empty until I have finished typing and checked the contents. Less chance of accidentally sending it by mistake.

    That’s actually what I do as well. I’ll even go so far as to remove it from a Reply.

    Leo
    27-Jul-2012
  29. My ex-fiance and I had an arguement over the phone years ago. Apparently, she sent me a scathing email, which she was sure would end our relationship. The next time I called her (from the road), she apologized, saying that she had gone into my account and deleted it. I immediately went in and changed my password. Since then I’ve never been dim enough to give someone my password.

  30. @John wrote: “Actually, I think email providers and developers should rename their Send buttons, to read “Think first, then Send”…”

    I second that! Also, it wouldn’t hurt to have a pop-up that said “Review the TO”.

  31. So why haven’t the other email providers implemented an unsend feature? If the corporate systems can do it, so can the others. It seems like a desirable thing to have.

    Corporate systems can do be because they control both ends of the conversation – sender and receiver. For it to work elsewhere would require cooperation between all possible email systems and clients, and that’s just not going to happen. Besides, the very concept is flawed – someone could read it before you unsend it, leaving you with a false sense of security.

    Leo
    27-Jul-2012
  32. There are email tracking services that tell you when email has been sent, received, opened, and can also be deleted.
    Available to anybody to use for a minor annual fee.

    And these services do not work reliably. Period. Email cannot be reliably tracked or traced, and there is no way to reliably tell if an email has been read or opened. More here: Do email tracking services work?

    Leo
    27-Jul-2012
  33. One of the first e-mail providers I had, from what I can remember, had a feature that, when you SENT it, it actually went first into a “cache” which gave you a chance to reconsider before you finally sent it. That I liked! It meant two strokes instead of one, mind you, but it also gave you another “kick at the cat”, and a measure of “peace of mind. I remember a number of times of being REALLY thankful for that feature! Why not bring that feature back??

  34. I placed an order with Amazon received email confirming order which was wrong,checked order then went back to email and the details had changed to the right ones wondered how they could do this according to this article they can’t..

  35. “There are email tracking services that tell you when email has been sent, received, opened, and can also be deleted.
    Available to anybody to use for a minor annual fee.”
    mac

    “And these services do not work reliably. Period. Email cannot be reliably tracked or traced, and there is no way to reliably tell if an email has been read or opened. More here: Do email tracking services work?”
    Leo

    27-Jul-2012

    Well i have used their services and found no fault with them at all, their services acted exactly as they advertised they would.
    It is a concern that if someone disagrees you just say they are wrong,lol.
    These email services are used by corporations, and small end users alike, and have been around a long time, and i dont think they are going anywhere.
    You tried them all???, that is why you stated they arent reliable???
    I have personally used the services of two and stuck with one, and have had no problem, at all.

  36. I’ve created an Outlook Rule which delays the sending of my emails for 25 minutes. This only applies if the email is marked “Normal”, so I can avoid the delay by marking it “High Importance” or “Low Importance”. Also, by scheduling a Send/Receive every (say) 30 minutes, you can also give yourself a chance to retrieve an email before it leaves your Outbox.

    I use this method not just to allow “second thoughts”, but also to correct errors, e.g. if I’m working my way through a big Inbox I might come across a later email which requires a change to what I just wrote.

  37. Hi Leo
    Ya certainly got a lot of comments on this article
    However to me ya are 100% correct again..the answer is lack of discipline, something that at my age was drilled into us at school.
    Did try to activate the g-mail labs thing, and although it does work, ya gotta be very fast, faster than is normally possible following an error in sending, so virtually useless.

    • Have you tried it lately? Undo Send is out of labs and is available under ‘Settings’ – you can set it for up to 30 seconds delay.

  38. One “solution” when writing important/sensitive email is to remove the addressee/s first. Once sure, you then add the addressees. More work, but safer. Another “solution”, try to keep your email for a day first when writing angry email; you may amend quite a bit of the email…

  39. Leo,

    You missed a great opportunity to suggest disabling the ‘immediate send’ feature that’s in all-mail client programs I’ve used (maybe under a different name). This allows all e-mails to ‘cool off’ until the next ‘check mail’ is invoked. It can even avoid embarrassing situations by allowing the sender to see succeeding e-mails viewed in a session before any of the responses are actually sent. I preach this feature in my classes.

    Thanks for all the high quality info you provide your readers.

    Dale….

  40. In case anyone is really worried by this and to amend my earlier post I have found that Yuzo F’s contribution in G-mail can indeed be lengthened to 30 seconds. This of course is still just a sending delay and not really an UNDO. Is done simply (after first enabling in Lab’s) by scrolling Settings/general and increasing the time to a maximum of 30 sec’s. This to me seems a rather long time to wait to send an e-mail. Still to each his/her own.

  41. From all these comments you would think people are mis-sending emails each and every day! When this happens, wouldn’t it be better to be honest and admit the mistake with an apologising email? For people sending lots of messages (and making lots of mistakes!) perhaps it would be best to disconnect from the internet and review the addressees before reconnecting and sending.

  42. I mention this only as a point of interest, but I’m sure it was possible to cancel an email between AOL subscribers. This would have been similar to the corporate email system described in your article as AOL used a proprietary email system. It wasn’t possible to cancel an AOL email sent to a non-AOL address. I haven’t had an AOL account for several years so I have no idea if this is still the case.

  43. There is a tracking program called ReadNotify that allows you to retract an email if it has not been opened. However it will only retract the message, not who it is from.

  44. i remember back in day, windows 95 or earlier, that we were able to tell if it was received, read, and maybe more. thanks

  45. Yes, u can delete or recall your mail before receiver read it.

    when your email configure in Microsoft outlook 2007

    Go sent item which mail you want to recall or delete from receiver email.

    then click on other action button ,

    then click recall massage,

    then appear one dialog box now click ok.

    As outlined in the article “Recall” is notoriously unreliable – it almost never works. In fact, it can actually draw MORE attention to the message you’re attempting to recall.

    Leo
    22-Sep-2012
  46. From time to time, there have been (and may still be!) the occasional encrypted user-to-user, web-based E-Mail service (usually fee-based) which allows one to cancel (“unsend”) messages which have been sent but which have not yet been retrieved (decrypted) by the recipient; this usually works by deleting (usually, securely deleting, although since the message is encrypted this is surely redundant) the message from the recipient’s inbox. However, in all such cases that I’ve ever encountered, the message cannot yet have been decrypted/retrieved by the recipient.

    This is however exceptional and requires both the sender and recipient to be using the same specialized messaging system. I quite agree that in general “unsend” is simply not possible. Indeed, I recall that there was at least one television commercial which made ridicule of this fact, since the unwary sender was left muttering “Unsend… unsend… unsend…” and hunting for the “unsend” key on his keyboard! (To the utter dismay of the advertiser, I haven’t God’s own notion what product was being advertised!)

  47. Leo, I have just made the same mistake many of your commenters have made; sending an email in error or haste. Though I am disappointed there is no way for me to undo what I’ve done, I can’t tell you much I am heartened by the fact that so many others have made this mistake as well. Even as my hopes were dissolving, I chuckled and laughed out loud as I read your responses to the insistent queries that there MUST be something that can be done! Thanks for the information and the smiles.

  48. I did the opposite! ..and unfortunately, not for the first time. I use Thunderbird, and I sent an email, and while it was sending I accidentally hit “Cancel.” The cancel window stayed there for a little bit, I didn’t get the usual message that the email had been sent successfully, then Thunderbird closed down. The email does appear in my “sent” folder; does that mean it actually did go? I would re-send except then I would feel even more like an idiot than I do now.

    • The best I can say is that if the email is in your sent folder, it was probably sent, but there’s no sure way of knowing.

  49. I want to know and re read a message that i have sent to a person in my gmail and i want to resend that email to the same person so how can i get in my gmail? brother i want to get sent messages

  50. Do a search on “self-destruct email” or “send email that deletes itself”. There are lots of services listed – I’ve never tried one, so I’d advise caution.

    • There’s still nothing that prevents people from saving a copy – even if it’s by taking a photograph of the computer screen with the message displayed.

  51. Apparently, a lot of people read the heading and proceeded to ask the identical question as replies instead of reading the article. If this is their normal mode, I can understand why they are accidently sending emails to people that they do not want to send them to.

  52. It’s clear by now that one cannot stop a sent message!

    So, the only option we have is to create a safety net while writing sensitive messages. If it is done afresh, let the send address be the last one to fill before clicking ‘Send’. Yes, keep it empty to the last moment. If one is replying, either remove the ‘To’ address or add a dummy character to the mail id to get it rejected if ‘Send’ is clicked mechanically.

  53. Amazing that this article has been in circulation, in one form or another, for over ten years!
    A long time ago, I saw a suggestion (from the late Jim Seymour, I think) that we NOT read our email continuously during the day: with its constant interruptions of other work, we’d never get anything done except email. So I set Outlook to do a send-and-receive at a convenient interval; I’ve used 60 minutes as the interval, and now I’m experimenting with every 45. Most of the time, this gives me a buffer between the time I hit “send” and the time Outlook sends the queued messages.
    I know it’s not the same as recalling the message: specifically, if I queue a message just moments before the computer is scheduled to do a send-and-receive, then it will be sent anyway. But building in that delay has saved my bacon many times, and on the occasions where someone has just sent me an email I need to read RIGHT NOW, I can always manually send-and-receive.
    If I were really cautious, I might have Outlook queue ALL messages and do a send-and-receive only when I tell it to; I could review all the outgoing messages before doing that. But that’s caused me to forget outgoing messages and leave them on my PC for hours, and that turns out to be a bigger problem.
    I think part of the problem here is a matter of discipline. Many, many users send poorly written (and even more poorly proofread) emails, as if email were subject to a different set of rules from other business communications. Although we’ve all developed a certain tolerance for that, badly written emails still project a bad image. So slowing down and taking a moment to review before the final sending of the message can be an important part of reputation management.

  54. Have been writing letters (snail mail) to various persons and today I realized I may have put two of them in the wrong envelope. I should have been more careful, but I dropped them off at the post office this morning. Leo – How do I get them back?

    Leo – I commend you for your patience, especially responding to those who keep thinking there is some magic “recall” function out there. Like snail mail, you better be on a first name basis with the local post master to have any chance of getting it back, and even then, at least in Canada, it is illegal! Why should electronic mail be any different?

    Cheers

  55. Hi Leo,

    Appreciate the article , and I think you’re spot on. I’ve sent emails , when not in a clear state of mind , that I have seriously regretted sending after the fact . Via Hotmail … After “googling ” how to under or retrieve , I found a few answers that I tried , but the attempt was futile . I tested the methods by sending emails from my hotmail to my gmail / outlook accounts , and then tried to receive them . Nothing works … Bottom line , don’t send harsh emails , they don’t do anyone any good . As mom told you , ” if you don’t have something good to say , then don’t say anything at all “. and move on”. We all make mistakes , it’s only human , but to really screw stuff up , you need a computer …

    Again , thanks for the post on the subject, the tips , and warnings.

    All the best ,

    Dave

  56. I don’t need to retrieve an email I sent to the wrong person, which seems to be the case in most of these questions. What I want to know is how to permanently delete one I’ve sent to the right person but don’t want anyone who uses my computer to ever be able to find &read it. Can this be done? Bet you can tell I’m a beginner…Thank you for your help!

    • You can delete it on your computer, but you’d have to specify how it was sent, ie. which email program or webmail interface you used if you want help on how to do that.

  57. Unfortunately I did something in the past due to which my google mails are being sent to my yahoo account.
    I disabled forwarding, I disabled POP in gmail but nothing worked.
    Can you guide me?

    • Maybe you have your Yahoo account set to retrieve emails from your Gmail account. I’d check the Yahoo Account settings.

  58. Thank you Mark, addressing everyone.

    Is there a thing I could do in gmail settings? I’ve spent some time on yahoo and couldn’t find things I needed.

    Right now, my gmail is blocked in yahoo under blocked addresses, gmail is continuing to say (2) for every mail saying sent to my yahoo.

  59. Ok…All through this I read how it is almost impossible to delete email sent to someone. Possibility of it being successful if both have same email provider (I believe AOL was mentioned)
    So can someone please tell me how my brother deleted every email I kept in my inbox, TWO different carriers, neither AOL? I have left them there, SAFE, I believed for years. Poof!
    It’s also my “default” for Facebook Posts and messages. All his messages are gone too. From years to days ago. He just blocked me yesterday.
    This is a very hard hit on my getting my personal items he stole Before our mother died back. And the $125,000 for selling her house at a HUGE loss because his new Bride wanted to go on a “vacation.” Oh and pictures of the forged Sales Documents he sent in the mail and I never received, but got our mothers Death Certificate he said he had “put in with the sale documents.”
    I am trying to remember all that I had, and be witty and realize I am failing in a big way. I am researching retrieving Facebook messages (thanks for the forced update Zuck) I had the messages of everyone I had ever blocked or blocked me. Am checking now to see if those are gone too.
    If anyone has any ideas of what happened, how I can retrieve any of it? I would so appreciate the help. Thank you

    • It sounds like he probably simply hacked into your account and logged in as you. If you don’t have a backup, then it’s very UNlikely that you’d be able to recover anything.

    • Unfortunately, there nothing you can do but hope it doesn’t get delivered. On the positive side, most emails I’ve sent which are delayed like that don’t end up being delivered.

  60. I have been guilty of this more than I want to count, especially sending angry e-mails when I chose not to control my impulses. I have also sent e-mails to the wrong people and had to send another one telling them to delete the e-mail I just sent. But I just started doing a little trick which helped me today. I wrote an e-mail in a text file, which I wasn’t sure I wanted to send, and left it in my “Documents” folder for a while. Today, I decided the e-mail wasn’t worth sending, and I deleted the text file. The advantage of this trick is, if I wanted to send the e-mail, I would have had to work harder to send it. I would have had to open Outlook and paste my text file in the body of an empty message, in addition to putting the recipient’s name in the “to” space. I’m sharing this trick because I hope it helps you all.

    • Good idea. Additionally that text file serves as a buffer to protect you against loss of the email you are composing. We often get questions and comments from people who lost the contents of an email they were composing. This is particularly a problem with composing an email directly on an email website.

  61. HI. I understand not being able to “unsend” an email because it gets delivered almost immediately. However, I sent a mail to the right person but with an uncomplete address. The system has advised me that it hasn’t been able to deliver the message but will go on trying for another 45 hours. As I know there’s no way it can be deliversed, I wanted to save the system the extra “work” by somehow telling it “address doesn’t exist. You can give it up already”. Then maybe the system doesn’t mind grinding water?

    • There’s nothing you can do. It’s out there bouncing from computer to computer with no way to get to it. Don’t worry about saving the system the extra work. It’s a drop in the ocean for the internet and any attempt to stop it would probably need more resources than it’s using.

  62. Hi Leo,
    The other day I mistakenly tried to send an email to wrong address – Business WebSite – and delivery failed. (as I could not find their email address) How can I remove that “unsent” message which remains in my Outbox folder I cannot delete or Trash?
    Thanks in advance for your response!
    – Toki Tonooka. {email and IP addresses removed}

  63. Question
    It’s my first week at work
    I am just learning how to do all this emails work
    I put all messages I already read in my outbox
    Does this mean it’s going to send out all the messages to my boss or me?

    • Outbox is for email you want to send someone. Just putting email there shouldn’t do anything, but it really depends on what program you use. YOU should never manually place something in your outbox — the “Send” button will do that. Instead if it’s email you want to keep create your own folder and move the email there.

  64. Re: unsending email. Years ago I used AOL for email and I am sure there was an “unsend” function that I had used several times and as far as I can remember it worked. I wonder if you could look into this and see how they did it. If other servers could create a similar function it would be a great convenience to those who use the service.

    • If it existed (and it quite well could have) it would ONLY work for email sent to another AOL subscriber. Email sent out of the system would still not be able to be “unsent”.

    • I remember that feature but I noticed in an earlier comment to this article that this feature no longer exists.

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