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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.