Kathryn from Hershey, Pennsylvania, wrote asking a question I should have answered a long time ago. Kathryn wants to know whether this punctuation is correct:
Dear Ms. Gaertner-Johnston;
What do you think? Is a semicolon correct after the greeting? How about a comma or a colon?
The semicolon is dead wrong. It is NEVER correct after a greeting. Never in a letter and never in an email.
Kathryn said she started using the semicolon unconsciously, and hers is the only explanation I can imagine for the widespread incorrect use of the semicolon in salutations.
Here's the correct punctuation: a comma for a personal letter, a colon for a business letter, and either punctuation mark in an email. (The colon is formal.) But remember: Dear isn't required in email, even when writing to a stranger. Try one of these two openings if you want to sound professional without using Dear:
Hello, Ms. Gaertner-Johnston.
Ms. Gaertner-Johnston, I found your website, and . . .
If you want to sound friendly with a stranger, try these:
Hi Lynn, (English teachers don't like this choice. They want a comma between Hi and the name.)
Lynn, thanks for the . . .
I've written a lot about greetings and salutations. If you want more examples, use the search term salutations in the search box on this blog.
And now I've written enough for someone on vacation. The lightning has passed, the pavement is dry, and the pool is open again!