Salutations in Letters and Email

UPDATED IN DECEMBER 2016

Dear Reader:   Dear Reader,   Dear Ms. Reader:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Reader:   Hi Reader,   Reader,

This post is all about the etiquette of salutations (greetings) for business letters and email. It’s dedicated to the many who have visited this blog in search of tips on how to begin a letter.

Rules for Business Letters

  1. The standard way to open a business letter is with Dear, the person’s name (with or without a title), and a colon, like this:
    Dear Louise:   Dear Ms. Chu:   Dear Mr. and Dr. Paige:   Dear Professor Amato:   Dear Patrick:
    (For more discussion of Dear, see my post “Do I Have to Call You Dear?”)
  2. The standard way to open a social business letter is with Dear, the person’s name (with or without a title), and a comma, like this:
    Dear Nigel,   Dear Dr. Tarabi,   Dear Reverend Jans,
    A social business letter is social or personal rather than business-focused; for example, letters of condolence, personal congratulations (for weddings, births, promotions, and other celebrations), and thank yous.
  3. If you don’t know the reader well or if the letter or the relationship is formal, use a title and a last name (Dear Ms. Browne). Otherwise, use the first name (Dear Gila).
  4. Unless you are certain that a woman prefers Miss or Mrs., use the title Ms.
  5. If you are writing to two people, use both names in your salutation, like this:
    Dear Mr. Trujillo and Ms. Donne:   Dear Alex and Drenda,
  6. Never spell out the titles Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Dr.  Do spell out these titles and similar ones:
    Professor, Dean, Sister, Rabbi, Imam, Senator, Governor, Captain, Admiral, Judge
  7. If you don’t know a person’s gender, use the full name rather than a title:
    Dear Dana Simms:   Dear T.K. Spinazola:
  8. If you don’t know a person’s name or gender, avoid “To whom it may concern.” Instead, use the job title or a generic greeting:
    Dear Recruiter:   Dear Claims Adjustor:   Dear Sir or Madam:
  9. If you are writing to a company rather than any specific individual, use the company name:
    Dear Syntax Training:   (This is considered slightly informal.)
  10. For a simplified business letter, do not use a salutation. Instead use a subject in all capital letters, followed by the body of the letter, like this:WAYS TO BEGIN A BUSINESS LETTER

    I am writing to share information about standard letter openings to. . . .

    Simplified business letters are perfectly acceptable but not common.

 

Rules for Email

For formal email (that is, email used as a business letter), follow rules 1-7 above. Otherwise, use less formality with greetings like these:

Dear Han,   Hi Eva,   Hello Kwasi,   Hi all,  Good morning, Ann,

If you use only the reader’s name without a greeting, be sure to open with a positive sentence so your message does not come across as cold:

Sue, 

Thanks for your help with the order. 


Brooke: 

I’m happy to provide the information you requested. 

For informal messages, you may also insert the greeting on the same line as the opening sentence, like this:

Hello, David. I hope you had a great vacation.

Good morning, Wanda. I am following up on this morning’s meeting.

Or just use the person’s name in the opening sentence, like this:

Yiota, you were right about the prices.

If you are looking for a desk reference that covers much more about business letters, email, reports, etc., I recommend The Gregg Reference Manual 11th Edition, also known as Gregg. I used Gregg to check the rules and recommendations above.

If you would like to have someone edit or proofread your messages, please ask my partner, Scribendi. I do not provide this service, but Scribendi does excellent, fast work.

For more about relationship-building messages, get my book Business Writing With Heart

Dear Reader,

Good luck with your salutations!

Lynn
Syntax Training

47 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you! You have answered a burning question for me about informal email salutations.

    I know that the rule when addressing a person within conversation is to use a comma. For example: “Lynn, do you know the answer?” Given this rule, I usually address friends in email like this: “Hi, Lynn,…” The problem was that I could not find a resource that specifically confirmed that this is correct-until now.

    Of course, Microsoft’s grammar and spell checker tells me this is wrong and rather than battle the little, green, please-correct-me line, I usually relent and remove the “Hi” and it’s comma, leaving me with “Lynn,… Hi.”

    Finally, I crafted the right search phrase-“grammar salutations email”-and found the answer in your post. I have never seen anyone else apply this rule in email.

  2. Heather, thank you for this message. I am so glad you found what you were looking for. Be sure to also check my February 5 post. It is about commas with names, and it goes into more detail about the question that has been puzzling you.

    Don’t let your software intimidate you when it comes to punctuation. Sometimes you are right!

  3. “Madam” is used only when we do not know the reader’s name, like this:
    Madam:
    Dear Madam:
    If we know the reader’s name, we use one of these:

    Dear Ms. Chan:
    Dear Mrs. Chan:
    Dear Miss Chan:

    What I have described is standard in the United States. I am not certain whether “Madam” is used differently in other English-speaking countries.

  4. Hello.
    I would be grateful if you could answer these two questions:
    1) If the mail recipient has two last names (eg. Professor Smith-Jones) how do I salute them? Is it correct to use “Dear Professor Smith-Jones”?
    2) If the mail recipient has a title Dr, meaning a PhD rather than being a doctor, how do I salute them?
    Thank you in advance for your time
    Marina

  5. Marina, you are right about how to greet a person with a hyphenated name. You use both names:
    Dear Professor Smith-Jones:

    The PhD question is a little tricky. It is best if you can find out the person’s preference or the style used in the person’s environment. In the US, many PhD’s in academic settings use “Dr.” However, in the UK, I have heard only “Mr.” and “Ms.” Outside a university setting, “Mr.” and “Ms.” are more common than “Dr.”–even in the US.

  6. Can you please tell me how to address and start a letter to an Executive Mayor? Is it His Excellency the Mayor and then Dear Cllr So-and-so?

    Thank you for your help!

  7. Marianne, I don’t know the answer to your question. I would phone the mayor’s office and ask for advice. If that approach would not work for you, I would try a library or an embassy in your country (South Africa?).

    I wish you luck.

  8. Hi, I have a question about salutations in business letters. If the person’s full name ends in “Jr.” or “Sr.” should I format it as, Dear Bob Smith, Sr.: –or– Dear Bob Smith, Sr: ???
    I’m inclined to go with the second option because it looks less awkward, but haven’t been able to find any references or style manuals that address this particular issue. In general, does a colon ever follow a period, or does the bottom half of the colon do double duty and fill in for any necessary period? Thank you so much!

  9. I am addressed in the UK as Mr E.F.Green,FCA but in the USA only as E.F.Green FCA. As a child I was taught in the UK not to write Mr. A Jones, Esq. It was either Mr ar Esq. Has the rule changed Hope you can clarify

  10. Eric, good question! I had to do research to find out what “FCA” means. Based on what I found, I am guessing that it is “Fellowship of Chartered Accountants.” Is that correct?

    If FCA is like Esq., it is used in the U.S. without another courtesy title. That is, FCA would be used without Mr. or Ms. The standard U.S. style agrees with what you grew up with in the UK.

    Thank you for introducing me to a new abbreviation.

  11. Lori, you would address the envelope as you indicated:
    Captain and Mrs. John Smith
    For the greeting (salutation), you would write this:
    Dear Captain and Mrs. Smith:
    In a business letter, the greeting is followed by a colon. For a personal letter, use a comma.

  12. How would an envelope be addressed to Jerry & Diane Shields when he is a Mr. and she is a Rev. Would it be

    Mr. Jerry & The Rev. Diane Shields ?

    The other minister in our church is easy since it is

    The Rev. & Mrs. Jeffery Deardorff

  13. David, her name comes first as a reverend (or any person with a special title). The recommended way is to address the envelope like this:
    The Reverend Diane Shields
    Mr. Jerry Shields

    An alternative is to put their names on the same line:
    The Reverend Diane and Mr. Jerry Shields

    Although traditionally the man’s name comes first in a letter to a married couple, when the woman has a special title (Dr., Rabbi, Senator, etc.), her name comes first.

  14. Dear Lynn,

    When addressing a letter to a recipient with whom I have a idealogical difference of opinion or a dispute of legal or business nature, it frustrates me to open the letter with “Dear”. e.g. “Dear Senator Hyperbole”.

    What other options are available for a proper salutation?

  15. James, you have a couple of choices when you write to Senator Hyperbole. One is to use the simplified letter format, which skips the greeting altogether. I illustrate it in the post you have commented on (above). See also “Do I Have to Call You Dear?” (in the etiquette category on August 16, 2005).

    The other option is simply to use “Dear” as a way of taking the high road with your message.

    I believe following the conventions of writing (using “Dear”) shows that you are an intelligent human being who knows the rules of effective communication.

    Please let me know what you have decided to do.

    Lynn

  16. In our fundraising database, we have a number of women doctors. 1. Does the special title rule apply to women doctors married to men without titles? Would Dr. Jane Smith and Mr. John Smith’s envelope be addressed to Dr. and Mr. John Smith? Would the salutation be Dear Dr. and Mr. Smith:?
    2. If they are both doctors, would they be addressed as Drs. John Smith?
    Thank you,
    Natasha

  17. Dear Lynn,
    I went through your article about salutation. I have some specific questions:
    I work for a project with a group of people; some of them are junior to me while some of them are senior. We daily interact with each other thru email, a very common situation any employed person faces.
    1. How do I open a formal email when writing to my colleague? After reading your article I understand that there are many ways to begin a formal letter, but which one suits best for the situation I mentioned above?
    2. There is a culture in the group to start formal email with person’s name with a comma (eg. Tom,). Isn’t that a bit rude way to start a formal email? What salutation should I use while replying to such a mail (from junior and from superior)?
    Any answers to these questions will really be helpful.

    Thanks,
    ASK.

  18. Ask, I think it is fine to use just the person’s name with a comma, as I have done in this sentence. I do not find it at all rude.

    If you communicate daily, I do not see a reason to be formal.

    If you want to be more friendly, you can simply use positive, friendly language, such as “happy to,” “pleased,” and “It was good to hear your view.” Or you can use “Greetings” or “Hi” with the person’s name if those words fit your culture.

    Why not ask other people at work how they feel about salutations? Maybe you and your colleagues can agree on the best ways to begin a message.

    Lynn

  19. What about the case of a woman who has taken her maiden name as her middle name; for example, Sharon Smith Jones (not hyphenated). Would the salutation be Mrs. Jones or Mrs. Smith Jones?

  20. What is the proper way to address a letter to a child? What is the correct salutation when writing a letter to a child?

  21. I hope you can help me. I need to send a letter to three people – a married couple and a woman with the same last name. Addressing the letter is simple, but what is the proper salutation?

    Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Ms. Smith? or is there a plural for women like Messrs. for men?

    Thank you for your help.

    Linda

  22. Linda, there is a plural for Mrs: Mesdames. The plural of Ms. is Mses.

    If you cannot use first names, I would use this:

    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Ms. Smith:

    Alternatively, write two letters. In the first sentence say something like “I am writing to you and to Ms. Smith . . . .”

  23. Larysa, girls and boys who are 13 or older are addressed as adults. Young girls may be addressed as Ms. or Miss or with no title. Very young boys may be addressed as Master or with no title.

  24. Can we use ‘Dear All’ for many receivers? Should ‘All’ start with a capital ‘A’?

  25. I am writing a letter to several companies to request MSDS (material safety data) sheets about the products we purchase from them. Is it okay just to use “Gentlemen” as a salutation?

  26. What’s the proper way to sign for somebody else?

    1. “Allen Baker for Charlie Day” or
    2. “For Charlie Day, this is Allen Baker” or
    3. just sign as “Charlie Day” even if sending from Allen Baker’s email account

  27. when writing a letter and there are more than one sending same, sould it read, Sincerely we are,
    Pat Mike

  28. When writing a personal letter and there is more than one person signing, the closing should read as follows:

    Sincerely,

    Pat and Mike

    For a business letter, the closing (“Sincerely”) stays the same, but each person has his or her own signature block, like this:

    Patrick White
    Manager, Customer Service

    Michaela Best
    Regional Manager

    The signature blocks are side by side or one above the other. Each person signs above his or her name, using first name only or full name depending on the formality of the letter and their relationships.

    Lynn

  29. When a woman’s name is hyphenated, is it correct to write Dear Mrs. Jones-Cooper, or since the last name is different from her husband’s, is it correct to write Dear Ms. Jones-Cooper? I have not been able to find any rule that addresses this situation.

  30. How do you address a couple who are both captains? Would it be Captain & Captain John Smith? Unusal, I know, but I am faced with this situation. Thanks.

  31. I just got married and hyphenated my last name and my husband did not. How do we address ourselves as a couple? Would it be his full name and then my full name or could we have first name &* first name, but what last name do we use. Mine or his?

  32. Kristina, I wrote about what to call married women on July 13, 2007, so read that post for ideas on your name.

    As for both of you, I believe he remains Mr. First-Name Wingler, but you can probably introduce yourselves any way you want.

    In my family, socially we are the Gaertner-Johnstons, but officially we are Mr. Michael Johnston and Ms. Lynn Gaertner-Johnston.

    Congratulations! I hope you have a long, lovely life together.

    Lynn

  33. I need to write a letter to a gentleman all I know is his name and behind that he has Ph. D. Do I address him as Dr. Smith Ph. D or Dr. Smith

  34. Type his name in the address block like this:
    James Smith, Ph.D.

    Address him as:
    Dear Mr. Smith:

    Or if you know he likes to be called Dr., use this:

    Dear Dr. Smith:

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