I have recently imported all my mail from Outlook.com and my work email into the gmail accout and I have started to organize the messages using labels. The filters work great and I have managed to sort most of my mail into labels and sub labels.

The problem that I have is the following:
Let's say I have setup a label Work with sub-labels contact1, contact2 etc. Now when I have created the filter I am asking that email from contact1 should go into work/contact1 label and from contact2 into Work/contact2. This thing works however, Gmail seems to add more labels by its own accord and the email from contact1 not only has the label Work/contact1 but also has label Work and in some cases inherits the label resulted from the import from outlook for example. Is there a way to tell Gmail to only apply that one label and strip the rest?

The reason I want this is because if a message has more than one label, it will appear everywhere it has corresponding labels. I only want the message to be in one "folder". I know about the fact that if say I have a thread from various contacts then the same message will appear in multiple locations but that is fine.

2 Answers 2


You are trying to turnoff one of the strengths of Gmail. A message can have multiple labels. When Gmail puts the work and contatct1 labels it is doing that because the contactx label is a sub-label of the work label.

Multiple labels make it easier to find messages/conversations because you can use the presence or absence of labels to filter the results of the search. The message is still only in one place it just has multiple labels. Each message has zero or more labels. Inbox is a label, archiving just removes the inbox label.

  • 2
    what's wrong with just using label contact1? i understand what happens that gmail will apply work and contact1 and then you can search for work and you instantly filter all in work. but i don't really like that when i click on work i have all the email from that label... i would just like to have nothing there, and then when i click on contact1 i want to see all in contact1. but let's say that i can live with this behaviour, what is annoying is that after the import from outlook.com most of the emails have lots and lots of labels and they have been categorized in a very weird way.
    – lucian
    Dec 9, 2014 at 12:11
  • Downvoting. Yes, he (and I) are trying to turn of something that you consider one of the strengths of Gmail for your particular use case. Stating that fact isn't an answer. If multiple labels were a "strength" for he and I, we would be looking for a way to avoid them.
    – John Smith
    May 6, 2022 at 20:59

There actually is a very simple fix to achieve what OP wants: the child level label appearing, but not all the parent and sub-level labels as well: a Chrome Extension called Short Gmail Labels.

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