Advice on Special Salutations

title graphic stating "advising people in special roles"

I regularly get questions from readers who want to know the proper salutation (greeting) for a letter to someone in a particular role or special job. Here are questions I have received about greetings in letters:

  1. How do I address a husband and wife when the wife is a Ph.D. and the state superintendent of schools?
    Answer: Use “Dear Mr. and Dr. Smith,” or call the wife’s office to find out which title she prefers.
  2. Is “Ladies and Gentlemen” acceptable to address a large group of employees?
    Answer: Yes, it is acceptable. Other options are “Dear Associates,” “Dear Employees,” “Good morning, everyone,” “Greetings,” and other salutations that suit your business culture.
  3. How do I address three teachers in the same letter?
    Answer: Use their names with courtesy titles, like this: Dear Mr. Devine, Mr. Pule, and Ms. Schneider:
    Or use a generic title, like this: Dear Teachers:
    The second choice is less formal.
  4. How do I address readers in a letter introducing our company? We do not have the names of the people who will receive the letter.
    Answer: Use a category greeting, like these:
    Dear Art Lover:
    Dear New Neighbor:
    Dear Lifelong Learner:
  5. If I am writing to two people–say a husband and wife–whose name do I use first?
    Answer: If you are using courtesy titles, the husband’s name traditionally comes first, like this:
    Dear Mr. and Mrs. Reyes:
    If you are using first names, either name can be first:
    Dear Gloria and Juan Carlos,
    If one of the readers deserves more deference (respect) because of age or status, use that person’s name first.
  6. What if I am writing to someone, and I do not know whether the person is a man or a woman?
    Answer: Try to find out whether the person is a man or a woman by phoning the office or doing Internet research. If you cannot find the answer, use both first and last name:
    Dear Santosh Pandya:
    Note: I regularly receive letters addressed to “Mr. Lynn Gaertner.” The greeting is an immediate signal that the reader does not know me and did not bother to learn about me.
  7. What if I am writing to a government official from another country, and I don’t know the proper greeting?
    Answer: If you cannot find the proper salutation in a reference book, telephone the office of the official and ask for guidance.
    Note: Just yesterday Dawn, who works in an international pharmaceutical firm, phoned a Canadian government office to inquire about the correct greeting. She wrote to me, “The person I spoke with thanked me and seemed very pleased that we would inquire!”

Notice that Dawn’s inquiry (above) created a positive international exchange. Her approach is far preferable to just guessing about the proper salutation and risking a stupid mistake.

For more information on greetings in letters and email, see this post. Or purchase The Gregg Reference Manual, in which I find most of my answers.

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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.

30 comments on “Advice on Special Salutations”

  • When referencing a husband and wife and the husband has a suffix such as Jr., do I list them as John and Jane Smith, Jr. or John and Jane Smith?

  • Jessica, it depends what you mean by “referencing.” If you are greeting them in a letter, see my December 18, 2006, post. If you are writing about them, you have several choices:

    Mr. and Mrs. John Smith Jr.
    John Smith Jr. and Jane Smith
    John and Jane Smith

    You cannot include Jr. after the name Jane Smith.

  • How do you address, in a letter, a former governor, now attorney-at law?

  • What salutation do I use to the President and members of our Historical Society?

    Thank you for a prompt response.


  • Why not “Dear Members”? I assume you have a vice president, secretary, treasurer, and perhaps other officers besides the president. Why single out the president?

  • What salutation do I use to to address two couples with the same last name that live at the same address?

  • What sort of salutation would I use when addressing a group of park district board members containing one lady and several men? Thanks

  • I have been using Dear Sir/Madame: as a salutation to correspondence when addressing a specific title yet unknowing of who is at the other end.

    Is this proper?

  • Yvon, you can use “Dear Sir or Madam.” Another choice is just to address the title, like this:
    “Dear Librarian.”

    Correspondence is much more effective when we know the name of our readers.

  • What is the proper business letter salutation for two doctors (medical or dental). Would it be “Drs. Smith:”, “Dr. and Dr. Smith:”, or something different?

    Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!

  • What salutation is best used when you do not know the name or gender of the person who will be receiving the letter? A letter to be received by a company where any of 100 employees could be the one responding?

  • EP and Amy, I have written about those topics. Just type your key terms in the search box on this site to narrow your search and find the answer.

  • Dear Lynn,

    I am currently consulting a company that does lobbying work with various government agencies such as EPA and USDA. Do special rules exist for writing to these authorities (particularly formal, special titles, etc.)? So far, I have been unable to find anything dealing with this…only information on elected officials. Thanks for your help!

  • Dear Lynn
    Can you tell me how to address a letter to a Mayor and his spouse.
    I have addressed it to The Honorable and Mrs….., now, how to start the letter – Dear Mayor and Mrs. ?

  • I believe it is proper English for a salutation on an outside envelope to be: John & Jane Smith. My question is this inproper: Mr. & Mrs. John & Jane Smith???

  • Is is proper when addressing a husband and wife in a legal letter to use the & sign as in Mr. & Mrs. Scott Doe, then use Dear Mr. & Mrs. Doe??

  • How do I address a letter to a husband and wife, and the wife has not taken the husbands last name?

  • When a husband and wife are both medical doctors, what do I use in the address block and salutation? Would I use Dear Dr. and Mrs. Smith in the address block and salutation or Dear Drs. Smith?

  • How do I address a person in the salutation if his name ends with the III or the IV? Example, Mr. John Smith III. Can we omit the III in the salutation?

  • Hi, Vicky. You do not use III, IV, or a form such as Jr. in the salutation. Only use those forms when you write someone’s entire name.

    In your example, this would be correct:

    Dear Mr. Smith:


  • I want to send an invitation to a female colleague and her husband. How do I address them?

    Ms Jane Smith and husband, or
    Mdm Jane Smith and spouse

  • Hi, Maria. It depends on his name, which you need to learn. You cannot refer to him as “husband” or “spouse.”

    Then you can follow the rules I discussed in a January 4 post this year, “A New Way to Address and List Married Couples.” Type the words “A New Way to Address” in the search box on the upper right on this page, and you will find the post.


  • I would like to know how to address an envelope to a dentist and his wife, it is a congradulations card.

  • What is the proper way to address a husband and wife, where the wife uses a hyphenated last name –
    Is it Mr. John Smith and Mrs. Suzy Dean-Smith and the saluation being Mr. Smith and Mrs. Dean-Smith?

  • ROA, I have covered that question in my post “A New Way to Address and List Married Couples.” Just copy that title into the search box at upper right.

    TITLE: Salutations!
    BLOG NAME: Manage Your Writing
    DATE: 07/15/2006 04:39:14 PM
    At her Business Writing blog, Lynn Gaertner-Johnston posts seven tips for tricky salutations. For example: What if I am writing to a government official from another country, and I don’t know the proper greeting? Answer: If you cannot find the

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