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What does the red exclamation mark mean in Outlook?

Red exclamation mark
Don't panic! Find out what that exclamation mark means

You’ve received an email in Microsoft Outlook and it’s arrived with a startling exclamation mark alongside it! Should you even open the message? What does the red exclamation mark mean in Outlook? Let’s find out.

Red exclamation mark in Outlook – what it means

If an email preview has a red exclamation mark alongside it, that means the sender has marked it as a high priority message.

In my industry, this is an annoying trick often used by PR firms to try and draw attention to their emails. Anyone who sends me one of these without good cause normally goes straight onto my blocked senders list!

Outlook lets you sort messages in order of importance, if you ever need to dig out these high priority messages. Just click the little three-line symbol at the top of your inbox and choose Importance from the drop-down menu, and all those messages tagged with the red exclamation mark will move to the top of the inbox.

How do I send a high priority message in Outlook?

If you wish to send a message with high priority, you can do so from the priority drop-down menu, which you should find at the far right of the subject line field, as shown below:

I strongly recommend you don’t do this unless the message is genuinely urgent. It’s also worth noting that not all email clients or webmail services support high priority messages, so there’s no guarantee the recipient will even know that this message has special urgency.

You’ll notice there’s also a low priority option. I don’t recall ever being sent a low priority message, and you have to wonder why anyone would ever bother using it, unless there’s a specific edict from within a company to prioritise messages. It seems like a pretty good way to ensure your message never gets read, if you ask me…

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About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at

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