CC vs. BCC: What's The Difference?

Learn the difference between these forms of email

The CC and BCC fields in your email app are similar, but serve two very different purposes. Confusing the two can sometimes lead to unfortunate or even embarrassing problems. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about these two methods of sending email, explain the differences between CC and BCC, and demonstrate when each one works best.

What Is CC and BCC

CC
  • Stands for “carbon copy.”

  • All recipients on the To and CC lines can see each other.

  • The best choice for most routine emails.

BCC
  • Stands for “blind carbon copy.”

  • BCC recipients are invisible to all other recipients.

  • Convenient for hiding email addresses or certain recipients.

The terms CC and BCC long predate electronic mail. They date back to the days of interoffice business communication, when a copy of a letter was literally made by inserting a piece of carbon paper between it and the original when typed on a typewriter. The copy was called a carbon copy and the top of the letter frequently was marked with a “cc: Dave Johnson” to indicate to whom the copy was being sent.

The blind carbon copy, or BCC, takes the idea of the CC and makes it invisible, so the recipient of the message is unaware that the BCC individual has also gotten a copy. 

Email window showing CC and BCC fields

Using CC and BCC in Email

CC
  • Secondary or info-only recipients go on the CC line.

  • Use when there are no privacy concerns with recipients seeing each other’s email addresses.

  • All CC recipients see all email replies.

BCC
  • If you need to protect email addresses, put all recipients on the BCC line.

  • BCC can keep a third party (like a manager) discreetly informed about an email.

  • BCC recipients only get the initial email, and are “dropped” from subsequent replies.

  • If the BCC recipient replies, he or she is exposed to everyone.

As a general rule, most routine email should be sent with recipients on the To: and CC: lines. The most relevant recipients, or recipients who need to take action on the email should go on the To line, while for-information-only recipients can go on the CC line. You can place everyone on the CC line in situations like when sending a broad communication (like a newsletter) to a number of people at once.

The BCC line is ideal for situations in which you need to protect the privacy of recipients. For example, if you are sending an email to a large number of people who do not know one another, you can place all of them on the BCC line. You can also use BCC to let a third party (like a manager) discreetly see your email. The To and CC recipients will not be aware of the BCC recipient.

There is a danger in using the BCC line in this way, though, because the BCC field may not behave how you expect:

  • After the initial email is sent, the BCC recipients are dropped from and any all subsequent replies, so they only see the first message.
  • If a BCC recipient chooses to Reply All, every recipient on the email will see this person appear on the thread. If you BCC’d a manager and the rest of the recipients were unaware this person was on the email thread, it can represent a violation of trust and is sometimes considered poor email etiquette.