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I want to know what is the recommended way to use Re: in the subject line of an email.

I use Re: in the subject line as a shortform of 'in regards to'.

Whenever I have used Re:, people have told me that Re: is only to be used when replying to an incoming email and shouldn't be used when starting a new email thread.

I remember being taught that Re is an preposition, which means “in the matter of, with reference to.”

I have also observed that I get immediate responses if I use Re: in the subject line.

So, should I continue to use Re: in the subject line or is that incorrect usage?

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14  
You missed a golden opportunity to call this question "Re: "Re:"" –  Seamus Sep 4 '10 at 13:32

5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Etymology Online indicates that this has been is use as "with reference to" since 1707:

"with reference to," 1707, from L. in re "in the matter of," ablative case of res "matter, thing."

Fowler does object to it, as the Etymology Online page indicates. He also indicates that it's a popularized technicality from Law, where it is used from the Latin to mean "in the matter of" or "in regard to".

So in general the usage for which you are using it is correct from a grammatical standpoint.

That said, common usage is that when "RE:" is the beginning of an email subject line it specifically relates to a reply, and using it otherwise will probably be confusing to email users, many of whom may not be familiar with the term's history or denotation.

It would likely be less confusing if you were to use it in a subject line of an email, but not at the beginning:

"My comments re: suitability of unicorns in marketing materials"

instead of

"RE: unicorns in marketing"

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I marked yours as accepted, due to the research done and links. –  Devdatta Tengshe Sep 5 '10 at 12:16
4  
Ordinarily, I'd have no objection to Re: meaning "in regard to", but if you're starting a new thread, what's the difference between "Unicorns" and "Re: Unicorns"? Very little, so I'd say leave it off. The only exception would be if you were continuing a discussion started elsewhere, say, at a staff meeting, or in the "Unicorns and Maseratis" thread, then this would indicate reference to what has gone before. –  moioci Sep 18 '10 at 7:18

Re: in the subject line of an email means "reply" or "response". Always. So in this context don't use it when you mean "regarding", but when you're replying to an email. Most email applications will add Re: to the subject automatically for you when you click the Reply button.

But you're right about the preposition. It does exist and means:

with regard to

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/re

However, in the subject line of an email specifically, nobody would interpret it with this meaning.

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Re: in the subject line of an email doesn't mean that, it means "regarding". –  delete Sep 4 '10 at 12:27
4  
The accepted usage is that "Re:" means "this is a reply to your email of the same subject". –  kajaco Sep 4 '10 at 14:49
1  
@Shinto Sherlock, in the email subject, "Re:" means reply and "Fwd:" means forward/forwarded. If "Re:" meant regarding, "Fwd:" wouldn't exist, as forwarded messages are also regarding the same subject. –  b.roth Sep 4 '10 at 17:05

RFC 2822, "Internet Message Format" says,

When used in a reply, the field body MAY start with the string "Re: " (from the Latin "res", in the matter of) followed by the contents of the "Subject:" field body of the original message.

So that's the official answer. Note that this specifically links "Re" to a reply.

I do find the explanation for the origin of the phrase suspicious, for the following reasons:

  • "Subject" already means "in the matter of", more or less, so the "Re" would be redundant.
  • Internationalized versions of email programs typically translate "Re" to an abbreviation of the translation of "Reply".
  • Nobody knows that "Re" means "Res", so it's useless to try to make your communication dependent on it.
  • The original RFC 822 did not contain the specification of "Re", although it did show an example using it. RFC 2822 was published in 2001, but clearly "Re" was in wide use throughout the 1990s, with most people not thinking that it meant "Res".

But if you ignore the parenthetical remark in the standard, what is says is correct and actual practice.

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"In regards to" is telling you what the subject of the email is. There's already a label that says "Subject". Why would you need the extra phrase?

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Spammers use it to make you think they are replying to your supposed initial response. I block anyone that uses it to start a new email.

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So, you never get an answer! Truly sad. –  Em1 Dec 27 '13 at 17:46
    
Really? You block anyone who uses Re:? I think you need to learn how to properly sort and filter email. –  Jacobm001 Dec 27 '13 at 18:00

protected by tchrist Aug 13 at 14:29

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