In Thunderbird I have such option and I use it. Now I am trying to switch to Gmail and I can't find such setting.

I claim that no computer program can know, whether I have actually read a message. This is because there is no implicit feedback from my brain to the computer. Thus, automatic marking as read just because a message was displayed is a serious mistake in my opinion.

Unread emails are important for me, because I must be sure that I do not accidentally miss an important message. Sometimes I even read a message and leave it as unread to know, that I have to read it again (e.g., because I do not understand something and have to check it).

How do you deal with this issue? How are you sure that you have dealt with everything important in your emails?


5 Answers 5


Until Google figures a way to have Gmail read your brain waves, it cannot reliably tell if you've read the message. Some mail clients mark a message as "read" only after it has been displayed a certain number of seconds, which might be closer to what you want. But that's not available in Gmail.

That's not to say that there aren't workarounds.

You could enable the Message Sneak Peek lab feature: Click the gear icon -> Settings -> Labs, scroll down to Message Sneak Peek, and click Enable. Go back to your inbox and right-click on any message. The message will be displayed in a popup window, without being marked as read.

Another thing I find myself doing, is mark a message unread after I've opened it, by clicking More -> Mark as unread (or press Shift+U if you have keyboard shortcuts enabled).

Also, starring messages is perhaps the most obvious way of keeping track of important emails that I need to deal with later. I use this in combination with the Multiple inboxes lab feature, so that a section of my inbox view is reserved for starred messages. When I've dealt with the message, I unstar it, and it is archived.

  • Thank you. I am glad that stars can be assigned to individual messages. I think I will create a filter that assigns star to all incoming messages and then I will be removing them manually.
    – user35242
    Feb 28, 2013 at 21:21
  • 2
    In the meantime "Message Sneak Preview" was retired. It was superseeded by the "new gmail inbox" productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/gmail/…
    – mit
    Aug 14, 2013 at 12:06
  • reading brain waves might not be too much of a far future! :D
    – cregox
    Mar 7, 2014 at 15:13
  • @cregox Thank you! Your answer says I have to go to Settings -> Labs -> Sneak Peek. But in my gmail Settings don't have any Labs section, even after I go to See All settings. What should I do? Oct 31, 2023 at 5:51
  • 1
    \to add to my previous comment: the second answer points to the existing path: Settings -> General -> Mark a conversation as read. Yes my gmail has it. Oct 31, 2023 at 6:00

There's an alternative. If you don't mind enabling the Preview Pane feature, you can avoid emails being automatically marked as Read. I find Preview Pane really useful so this is a double advantage.

To enable Preview Pane in Gmail, go to Settings > Labs > Preview Pane and mark it as enabled. Click Save Changes. Then go back into Settings > General, and in the Preview Pane section you can set Mark a conversation as read: to Never.

  • 1
    This is the real answer! Dec 20, 2019 at 14:30
  • Agreed. This solves the problem for me. Thank you. I am not a fan at all of the settings menu in gmail.
    – Chris
    Feb 13, 2021 at 13:55

One way that should work: Under Settings --> Labels --> Create a new label named "UNREAD MAIL" --> Then under Filters (etc...) --> Create a new filter where you set every mail larger than 0 B or bytes, to get that "UNREAD MAIL" label. It simply means all mails (even the empty ones).

Optional: In the left panel where there's Inbox, etc. and all labels, see that newly created label "UNREAD MAIL" and under its settings (three dots when hovering the cursor on it), give it some nice color so it'll pop out well.

Now every single mail that drops into your Inbox will get that UNREAD MAIL label, you just have to click it away after reading the mails, which is the whole idea of this topic. Plus it seems to be pretty fast to do so.

Seems to work on mobile and web. Hope you get it working, too.

  • Thanks, such a simple and elegant solution Jan 11, 2019 at 13:44

Here is another tip. Create a label called "Read Emails". When you have finished with an email, use the MOVE TO button to move the email to that label (this will remove the inbox label). This way, you know that anything in your inbox needs attention whether it is read or unread.

  • 2
    It seems to me simply archiving messages that have been actually read (rather than opened) is a bit simpler.
    – ale
    May 13, 2016 at 19:55

Gmail via delegated account access does not mark as read

If you have delegated access to your account to someone it won't mark as read automatically for them. They can click around all they want and it will never mark as read.

We use this for our customer service inbox so others can log in (via just switching account in the top right hand corner) and see emails but not mark as read by mistake.

They can still mark as read, but it's an explicit right click menu option or button click.

You could in theory delegate access to your own gmail to a dummy or secondary account if you wanted to do this to your own gmail. Then log into your main email via the secondary account (click top right).

I think it's ridiculous that there still isn't a good way to disable this by default.

More details here

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