The salutation in business letters

(Salutation or greeting in English business letters)

Table of contents – salutation

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Salutations in letters
  2. Punctuation
  3. Further explanations

What are the forms of address in letters?

In English, it is common to use various impersonal salutations or greetings in business letters. These forms of address always depend on the person or persons one is writing to. In most cases, ‘Dear’ is used for both formal and informal correspondence. Compare:

  • If the letter is directed to a single person, the following forms of address are available:
    • Dear Sir”
      • male recipient
    • Dear Madam”
      • female recipient
    • Dear Sir or Madam”
      • gender of the recipient is unknown but probably male
    • Dear Madam or Sir”
      • gender of the recipient is unknown but probably female
    • Dear Mr Johnson”
      • recipient is a man
    • Dear Miss Wilson”
      • recipient is an unmarried woman
    • Dear Mrs Gordon”
      • recipient is a married woman
    • Dear Ms Peterson”
      • neutral form of address for married and unmarried women
    • Dear Sandra”
      • If the writer of the letter knows the recipient, the first name is usually utilised.
    • Note:Mr, Ms, Miss,’ and ‘Mrs’ can be replaced by titles, such as ‘Dr, Professor,’ etc. if required.
  • If the letter is written to several people, such as a company or an organisation, without addressing a specific person, the subsequent forms are typical:
    • Dear Sirs”
      • more commonly used in British English
    • “Gentlemen”
      • more frequent in American English
    • “Ladies”
      • in American when only women are addressed
    • “Ladies and Gentlemen” or “Gentlemen and Ladies”
      • more American style
    • “To Whom It May Concern”
      • In American when the letter is not directly intended for a specific body but may also be passed on. Such a greeting is often found in letters of recommendation or job references.

What is the preferred style of punctuation?

Regarding the punctuation after the salutation, some differences between American and British English exist:

  • In British English, no punctuation mark is usually placed after the greeting; but in informal, in particular, personal letters, a comma is sometimes used:
    • “Dear Sirs”
      • business correspondence, formal
    • “Dear Peter,
      • private message, informal
  • In American English, however, a colon regularly follows the salutation:
    • “Dear Mr. Ellenbrook:
      • Also note that in American, other punctuation marks such as a full stop for abbreviations are usually used (see closed and open punctuation).
    • “Dear Sandra:

Further explanations referring to the ‘Salutation in business letters’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘Salutation or greeting in English business letters’ and might also be helpful: