What Is a Salutation? It’s Not a Close!

People often write to me asking for help with salutations. But when I read their questions, I find that they deal with "Best regards" or "Sincerely yours." Those are complimentary closes.

Let's look at the differences. 

A salutation is a greeting we use at the beginning of an email, a letter, or a note. Even a text or an online comment can begin with a salutation.

In a letter, salutations nearly always begin with "Dear":

Dear Rosalie,
(We use a comma after the greeting in a personal letter in the U.S. and Canada. In other countries the punctuation is often omitted.)

Dear Dr. Gomez:
(We use a colon after the greeting in a business letter in the U.S. and Canada. Other countries often leave it out.)

Salutations in emails can begin with "Dear" if the message is formal. Otherwise, they are more likely to be one of these:

Hi Jeff,

Hello Professor,

Hello to all,

Greetings, everybody!

A comma normally sets off an individual's name in direct address (for example, "Thank you, Margo"), but most people leave it out these days in greetings. (I am trying hard to let go of that comma, but I still write things like "Hello, John.")

A complimentary close or closing is a polite ending to a message. In letters, these are common closes:

Best regards, (We use the comma in the U.S. and Canada; other countries may leave it out.)

Regards,

Sincerely,

Best wishes,

A complimentary close is not a must in email, but it warms up the end of the message. People usually end an email with a complimentary close if they open it with a greeting. Examples:

Regards, 

All the best,

Cheers,

Thanks, 

As a traditionalist, I like to use "Thanks" sincerely in a sentence ending with a period. Example: "Thanks again for helping me finish this project." But "Thanks" alone has become a popular close. 

Maybe the expression "greetings and salutations" has led people to believe that the greeting starts a message and the salutation ends it. But that just isn't so. 

Do you have questions about salutations or closes? Just type your search phrase in the box at top right. I have covered salutations for married couples, doctors, etc., along with complimentary closes for all kinds of situations. 

Lynn
Syntax Training

P.S. For ways to build relationships in business messages, get my book Business Writing With Heart: How to Build Great Work Relationships One Message at a TimeIt covers salutations, closes, and a whole lot more.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Lynn, maybe you can help me get a grip on a salutation that makes me cringe. Some business associates – especially younger people – use “Hey, Laura” in their email greetings to me. My grandmother lived in our home when I was growing up, and if we ever said, “Hey, Grandma,” she would respond, “Hay is for horses.” So we learned not to do it. Now I find the word overly familiar in a business setting, perhaps even bordering on rude. I know I need to get over this and take it in the spirit in which it was meant, but I still cringe. Your thoughts?

  2. Hi Lynn:

    In Business Writing class many years ago, we were taught to use the colon in the salutation. It is especially pertinent in business letters. Also, I like the close ending with a period. Is a comma, or a period, acceptable here?

    Best Regards.
    Bob VL

  3. Laura, I’m just chiming in here regarding your concerns about younger business associates using “Hey Laura” as an email greeting to you. As a twenty-something in business, I definitely don’t think this should be taken as rude at all- they most likely consider it a synonym for “hi” in this context. However, if you are in a management or leadership role and those under your leadership address you (or others one or more levels above them) with “Hey”, I do think it would be appropriate to mention to them at some point that this isn’t really a professional greeting.

  4. Hi Laura and Lisa,

    I have learned to accept “Hey” as an informal greeting despite being taught the “Hay is for horses” lesson. I suggest recognizing that different generations have learned different lessons and accepting “Hey” as a friendly greeting. Laura, you might think of younger employees as people from another country, who do things differently. Decide that their way is different, not worse–to avoid cringing and start grinning.

    At the same time, I agree with you, Lisa, that supervisors should coach employees to write for their readers. They should note that “Hey” seems too informal to many people. Also, supervisors can set standards for writing to customers, clients, senior executives, and others.

    I have been writing this blog for nine years. I find myself in the position of needing to update old posts. Things that seemed unacceptable then are now well entrenched.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Lynn

  5. Hi Bob,

    “Many years ago” people wrote only letters and memos–not emails, texts, etc. The colon was the only mark to follow a greeting. Today the colon is still correct for business letters, but commas are often used after the greetings in emails.

    I have never seen–and my style guides don’t support–using a period after the complimentary close. I have a style guide from 1914, 100 years ago, that states “The proper punctation at the end [of a close] is a comma.”

    I recommend reserving the period for the mark after the last sentence. Then use a comma with the complimentary close.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Lynn

  6. Thank you for your helpful website. I use it often.

    I have a question about email salutations.

    When sending a business email, I typically format the salutation using the recipient’s first name followed by a colon (i.e. “Jane:”). Is that acceptable?

    If not, why is it acceptable to omit “Dear” and use a comma (e.g. “Jane,”) in the salutation of a personal email, but not acceptable to omit “Dear” and use a colon in a business email (to colleagues)?

    Thanks, in advance, for your help.

  7. Hi Mike,

    The problem with “Jane:” is that it may come across as abrupt. It doesn’t communicate positive feeling.

    “Jane” followed by a comma feels a bit warmer. A comma comes across as less formal than a colon.

    Names on the screen do not convey tone, so readers bring their own interpretations to your greeting. When Jane sees her name followed by a colon at the beginning of an email, she may anticipate a stern message–even if you are congratulating her.

    Compare these:

    Jane:

    Hi Jane,

    Good morning, Jane!

    I like to use a greeting such as “Hi” or “Hello.” Sometimes I skip the greeting and use the person’s name at the beginning of my opening sentence, like this:

    Claire, thanks for your question.

    The opening sentence, rather than a greeting, communicates my positive intent.

    Mike, I hope those ideas help you.

    Lynn

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