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Do I Have to Call You “Dear”?

Dear Reader:

I’m not sure whether it’s gender-based or not, but it certainly seems that more men than women have trouble opening a business letter with the salutation “Dear _____.”

In a recent writing class in Bellevue, Washington, several men admitted they couldn’t force themselves to use “Dear” to address a business acquaintance, especially one they didn’t like. (I’m sure this situation has nothing to do with Bellevue, which seems to be a perfectly pleasant city. Also, I have gotten the same admissions in Tacoma and Seattle.)

These men would rather begin a business letter with no salutation at all, or simply with the addressee’s name, as in:


But the salutation “Dear ____” isn’t like the word Darling. It’s  a business conventionthe way we open a business letter, even if we don’t like the person. Similarly, “Sincerely yours” is the convention we use to close a letter, even for someone we have never met and to whom we definitely do not belong.

graphic explaining the use of business conventions such as "dear___"

I like these civilized, courteous conventions, and I recommend following them, just as I recommend thanking people for their letters of complaint. After all, when we call someone “Dear” or say thank you, how can we not write them a courteous, reasonable letter?

A participant in the recent Bellevue class said, “But what if the person stole from us, and I am writing to end the business relationshiphow can I possibly call that person Dear?”

Excellent questionI wish I had an ideal answer. But what is the alternative? The other four-letter words that come to mind for a business cheat simply don’t fit a professional communication.

I recommend “Dear.” Using it, we are much more likely to resist being obnoxious, unfeeling, or confrontational in our message. That “Dear” may even help us see the other person’s point of view. (We are all dear to someone, aren’t we?)

Yes, I have to call you “Dear”and it’s my pleasure.

Sincerely yours,


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

35 comments on “Do I Have to Call You “Dear”?”

  • To Ms. Lynn Gaertner-Johnston,

    As with the students of your writing class, I also have a problem with the salutation ‘Dear’; both in professional and personal correspondences. In professional communiqués I find it to be too informal and personal for my tastes. When used for personal letters and notes I feel that it lacks all the meaning it once held due to over use.

    In regards to the closing salutation of ‘sincerely yours’ for professional letters: I simply drop the ‘yours’. I do sincerely mean what I say, but in no way am I theirs. I reserve that distinction for my personal letters.

    I am not trying to say you are wrong or I am right. I understand the compunctions the men on your classes have with the salutations. They are not the same ones that I, as a woman, have. I only wished to bring these points to your attention so you will be better prepared to defend you position in future.


    Kelly Brunner

  • How do you open a letter to a District Attorney: Dear Mr. Smith or Hon. John Smith, District Attorney?

  • I do not like to use Dear in any of my correspondence and the reason I went to your web site was to find out if there was another way to close a letter beside Sincerely. I thought by now someone would have come with a different closing. I write letters on behalf of my patients. I give them to my patients for them to share with whom ever they choose. Therefore, my salutation is To Whom It May Concern. I thought there would be more choices than Dear and Sincerely.
    There must be better language.

  • Dear Lynn,

    I have worked for small and leviathan corporations. Emails are short, curt, often seem rude and rarely adhere to any business writing “rules”.

    We’ve abbreviated speech under the auspices of efficiencies and are creating a pandemic of functional illiteracy – grunts may be the next phase. Email invites depredations of unrestrained language butchering and house every conceivable grammatical, typographic and stylistic error.

    Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that “language is the skin of living thought.” Aside from bastions like the legal profession, one or two “big words” in email can illicit a manager’s reprimand – pleasantries are seen as “wasting time” and the use of the opening “Dear” in emails is exponentially rare.

    What’s the price of all this?

    Thank you for your time,
    Wally Auslander

  • Hi, Shirley. I have written about complimentary closings. Please search for “With Best Wishes” on this site, and you will see a variety of closes.

    I have noticed that people from English-speaking countries outside North America also use “Kind regards,” so you can add that one to your list.

    I dislike “To Whom It May Concern” as cold and anonymous, but I admit there may be a place for it.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Dear Wally,

    Thanks for your passionate comments. I myself feel positive about email. In the examples I read daily, I experience wonderful energy, fine ideas, and concise writing–along with the poor qualities you mention. Email is just a medium like any other, used badly and brilliantly.

    A note of caution: Watch the use of “illicit” for “elicit.” It could get you into trouble.

    Best wishes,


  • Dear Lynn,

    Yep – I can’t believe I made such a basic common-horse-sense mistake. . . illicit!

    I guess I sort of made a point, without even trying, making the typical “I sea your pea see” error in my communication as the old joke goes.


  • Dear Lynn,
    I came to this site looking for suggestions about complimentary closings, and so was delighted to find the following comment earlier in this discussion thread:

    “Hi, Shirley. I have written about complimentary closings. Please search for “With Best Wishes” on this site, and you will see a variety of closes.”

    Alas, though I scanned sidebars, headers and footers diligently, I could not find a search function anywhere “on this site.” I checked the archive of discussions, and your Syntax Training website, but with the same result.

    Could you please clarify whether there is, in fact, a search function that I am simply missing, whether I should be browsing the archives and searching on individual pages, or whether there’s some other solution to my dilemma.

    Thanks for your interesting and helpful advice on many subjects. I look forward to learning more from you about the topic that originally brought me here.


  • Hi, Geoff. Thank you for asking about the search function. It is clear to me that you are not seeing this site the same way I am.

    When I visit this site from either Foxfire or Internet Explorer browser, I see a search feature labeled “Blogbar” at the top right, just underneath the banner.

    This feature allows me to enter search terms to search on this site or the web.

    I am not sure why you don’t see the Blogbar. But since you don’t, you can type any search term and “businesswritingblog” into your browser. That should give you similar results.

    I wish more people were able to access the Blogbar because I receive too many questions to answer. If people had an easy way to search the site, I know they would find the answers themselves.

    Best regards,


  • Dear Colleagues,

    I think the greater purpose of having a “greeting” and “closing” in any written communication is about politeness and courtesy.

    With every good wish, I am. . .

    Sincerely yours,
    Walter A. Ellena

  • Dear Walter,

    Thank you for the reminder about the purpose of greetings and closes.

    The style you have chosen for your close was once the standard. Now the standard–at least in North America–is to leave out the ” . . . I am” part and just use the brief closing.

    I appreciate your good wishes!

  • Dear Lynn,

    I use “Dear”, too, despite a sincere dislike for the term in business correspondence. I wish we could all adopt the Spanish custom of addressing the recipient as “Esteemed” , e.g.

    Estimado Profesor Villanueva
    Estimada Sra. Gaertner-Johnson

    a term which captures the formal courtesy of business correspondence much better than the personal, heartfelt “Dear”.

  • I like your suggestion. “Estimado” has such a lovely sound.

    I can still see people complaining, though, “But he’s NOT esteemed!”

    Thanks for sharing.

  • dear lynn
    i learned a lot from your post. But it’s China,you know. I can’t not check the Gregg maybe if you can, please explain salutation clearly. sometimes salutations is very confusing. thanks a lot!

  • I agree with many that “Dear” can seem too familiar but haven’t found a suitable alternative, other than dropping it altogether and just using the recipient’s name. (I suppose “Hey” or “Yo” hasn’t caught on?) As far as closings go, I am a big fan of “Regards” since I can vary it for the context, as in “Warm regards,” “Kind regards,” “Best regards,” or simply “Regards.” Sometimes I revert to the old standby, “Sincerely.”

  • Hi Lynn,

    Is it right to use “Hi” as your salutation? We usually use “Hi” everytime we send email.



  • Hi, Nhoj. It’s a good idea to think about your audience and your purpose. “Hi” comes across as friendly and rather informal. That tone is not always appropriate for business emails.


  • Hello Lynn,

    I begin informal letters with Hello, as I would in conversation. Emails may begin with a time conscious salutations like “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon”. I begin business letters with either no salutation or a simple, “ Greetings”. I end business and most informal with “Regards” or “Best Regards”.
    I have never been comfortable with “Dear” as it is saccharine like or pretentious, as is “Sincerely Yours”. To end with “Sincerely” implies that there may be time you are not sincere.

    While I do recognize “Dear” is still used and justified with inappropriate connotation, and is clung to by those a wash in nostalgia, I will continue my one man march for change.

    Peace Out,


  • Dear Lynn:
    Is it ever appropriate to start out a business email to several females as “Ladies” for the salutation?

    One of our executive administrators does this routinely, when adressing her female executives.

    Even as far as writing a separate letter to the “gentleman” executives, and using their first names.

    I find this practice a bit patronizing and it irritates me. Am I being overly sensitive?
    Julie A. Tome

  • Hi, Julie. I am not sure you knew your message would be posted here. If you would like me to remove it, just let me know.

    The executive’s approach is unusual. It would make more sense to address the message to women and men, with the greeting “Hello, Executive Team members.”

    “Ladies” can be pleasing to some and very grating to others. For that reason, I suggest always avoiding it.

    I would not assume the writer means anything by her old-fashioned greeting. I recommend that you ignore the greeting and instead concentrate on the message.

    Good luck!


  • Hello Lynn,

    Would like to get your opinion on Russell’s greeting style – opening with a Hello’ (instead of Dear)as i prefer and follow the same. Is it too informal for business mails??

    With concern,

  • David Davis

    Hey Peeps,

    For e-mails intended as business letters, I find “Dear” and “Sincerely Yours,” to more crucial than ever. In a world awash with casual electronic correspondence, formal salutations immediately alert the reader to the serious nature of the text.

    “Dear Business Owner,
    Please send me a $$ refund for XX reason.
    Sincerely Yours, Customer.”

    is more likely to be taken seriously than

    “Pls snd rfnd ASAP :-)”

    Cheers, me

  • David, thanks for your thoughts on the subject and your helpful example.

    When you wrote “Dear Business Owner,” did you intend that the writer would replace “Business Owner” with the person’s name or company name? I would handle the message that way. If I got an email that began “Dear Business Owner,” it would undoubtedly be spam, and I would disregard it.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  • Good day, Ms. Gaertner-Johnston:

    Based on many posts here, I am far from alone in feeling uncomfortable with the salutation “Dear”. I’m very interested in etymology, and the word “dear”, whether used as formal or informal salutation suggests a feeling of respect or closeness to the addressee. I have found nothing in my research to indicate that the basic meaning has changed throughout its permutations over the years, despite its current overuse. To demonstrate my problem with this salutation, I offer this example:

    “Dear Mr. Albert Fish,”

    Albert Fish was a notorious kidnapper, child abuser/murderer, sadomasochist and cannibal. I admit this is an extreme example, but I have no desire whatsoever to seem sympathetic nor friendly to a person such as he. However, I also don’t want to seem rude, because I wouldn’t be writing to him at all unless I were seeking information, and people tend to be a little less forthcoming when they feel slighted or a sense of hostility from the very first word of your letter. I find the use of the word “dear” in my example completely inappropriate due to the very meaning of the word. He is not my friend; I do not admire him; I do not wish to become his friend nor give any such impression.

    For clarity’s sake: I am not attempting to contact the deceased Mr. Fish, nor any other such contemptible person. Yet, the body of the letter (to subject “X”) I have completed is certainly not friendly; it is critical, but not rude. I can find no generally acceptable salutation that suits this circumstance. I wish to express a bare minimum of civility and basic human respect, nothing more.

    I agree that no salutation at all indicates a rather abrupt tone and borders on rudeness. While I have no difficulty giving as good as I get, so to speak, I don’t want to begin this potential correspondence with “X” on the wrong foot, be it overly friendly or any other extreme.

    I save my “hey”, “hi,” hello” (forms of the latter are mainly intended for use as a telephone greeting, by the way) salutations for people I already know on a casual basis and with the understanding that they will not take offense. With those people, it is not an indication of a lack of respect nor undue familiarity.

    I try very hard to “say” precisely what I mean, using the appropriate tone for the written conversation. In this instance, English is failing me. “Greetings” or “Salutations” seem, at least to me, a bit of a cop-out, as they are both more along the lines of definition rather than a proper introduction. “To Whom it May Concern” also does not apply; it is unduly cold and I do happen to be writing to a specific person, not an unknown quantity. An emotionally-neutral salutation must exist. If you or your readers can find a generally agreeable word or phrase, I would be happy to put it to use.

    Any time and/or effort put into helping me solve this quandary will be greatly appreciated.

    Your reader,

    A.K. Jenkins

  • Hello, A.K. Jenkins.

    You may use the simplified letter form, which has neither a salutation nor a closing.

    Instead, it begins with a subject line in all capital letters. The line beneath your signature is also in all capitals.

    Please don’t spend another minute worrying about how to address people you abhor. Life is too short!


  • Dear Lynn,

    I enjoy your blog. Your humour shines through sensible explanations and reminds me of Carnegie’s “How to win friends and influence people”. I agree that it is hard to be irritated if someone sends a courteous communique starting with “Dear” and suspect using the salutation does influence the subsequent respectful messages. At the same time “Dear” with a following rude message feels like sarcasm so wouldn’t like it in that case. I have only once responded with “are you upset with me?” to a formerly very polite colleague who was suddenly writing messages tersely …. only to receive the quick reply, “I’m trying to be succinct these days
    but you’re right, I think it comes across as rude so shall go back to my old ways”. He always had used “Dear” and it felt great. Thanks for the ideas and responses you give. …. Margaret

  • I have to agree that using “Dear” and “Sincerely yours” are overly personal. Perhaps that’s become the common convention, but I’m of the mind that language, itself, is only valuable if you adhere more closely to the origins.

    And, as far as I know, opening a letter with “Dear” infers the recipient is dear to you. Likewise, signing it “Sincerely yours” suggests a close friendship or even romance; that a part of you belongs to them.

    I find both to be very awkward in a professional setting.

  • Hello, Margaret. Thanks for your kind words and for sharing that helpful example about your colleague. Very interesting! I am glad you had the courage to ask him whether something was wrong.


  • Hi, Dave.

    If you are in business and you send business letters, “Dear” should be part of them. I hope you will be able to ignore the feeling of awkwardness and follow business conventions.

    You don’t need to use “Sincerely yours.” “Best regards” has become very popular.


  • Dear Lynn:

    Is it typical for your readers to address you as “Dear” when they write comments? While there may be a bit of tongue-in-cheek going on here, preceding each comment with a greeting and a closing gives me an impression that the comment writer is stilted, robotic, and, despite the closing statement at the end, anything but sincere.

    Do you get this impression from emails written in this nature? I often resort to “Hi” or “Hello” because it is honest, friendly, inoffensive, and even if it’s a bit casual, it at least doesn’t make it seem like a robot or a faceless government agency generated the letter.



  • Irwin, what an interesting thought! “Stilted, robotic, and . . . anything but sincere” is not what I think when I read “Dear.” I just think the reader is using a standard greeting. When my friends use it, it can express our closeness.

    Yes, readers were having fun with the greeting in these comments. I enjoyed it.

    Like you, I often use “Hi” and “Hello.” I also sometimes use “Dear.”

    Perhaps in a hundred years “Dear” will have disappeared from business communication. I don’t think that change would make writers sound more sincere. But it might make some messages seem colder.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your view.


Comments are closed.