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Greetings in Letters and Emails

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Greetings in Letters and Emails
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Today on Ask a Teacher, we answer a question from Yehia in Yemen.

He writes:


“Could you explain what are the differences between ‘Hi,’ ‘Dear sir,’ ‘Hello,’ ‘Greetings’ and other greetings? Thank you!!” - Yehia, Yemen


Dear Yehia,

To answer your question, I need more information. Are you writing a business letter or an email? Also, how well do you know the person you are writing to? Let us look at a few possible situations.

You are writing to a stranger

When writing to someone you do not know, you usually begin a letter with “Dear” and the title of the person and their surname, or family name. Imagine you are writing a letter to congratulate Cori Gauff, the young woman who defeated Venus Williams at Wimbeldon on Monday. If you did not know the American teenager, you would start the letter this way:

Dear Ms. Gauff:

I am writing to congratulate you on your amazing victory at Wimbeldon.

You may have seen business letters that start with “Dear Sir” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” But those words are used when you do not know the name of the person who will receive the letter. It is always better to begin with the name of the person you are writing to. Use the term Ms. for females and Mr. for males before the surname. If you do not know whether the person is a male or female, you can use their full name: Dear Cori Gauff:

Punctuation is a little different: in business letters, you should use a colon after the greeting. In a personal letter, add a comma after the greeting.

Writing to a friend

Now, imagine you are a family friend of Cori Gauff. In that case, you can begin your letter less formally and use her given name:

Dear Cori,

I was so happy to see you on television Monday. You were awesome!

You might even use the tennis player’s nickname, which is Coco:

Dear Coco,

In emails and text messages, it is also common to see the greeting “Hi” or “Hello.” These are fine if you know the person well and have been in contact with them recently. The word “greetings” sounds like the opening of a form letter, or a mass mailing, so you should not use it in a letter to just one person.

To close a business letter, you can use “Sincerely,” followed by your name. Use your full name for someone you do not know, and your given name for someone you do know. To close a friendly letter, you can use “Yours,” or “Best Wishes,” followed by your given name.

And that’s Ask a Teacher!

I'm Alice Bryant.

And I’m Jill Robbins.

Dr. Jill Robbins wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

greeting – n. a word or sign of welcome

title – n. a name that describes someone’s job; a word used to identify the person’s gender

punctuation – n. the marks used in writing to separate sentences and to clarify their meaning

colon – n. a mark used to separate things in a list or an explanation

comma – n. a mark used to separate parts of a sentence or more or more things on a list

formally adv. officially; following established rules or customs

awesome – adj. wonderful; surprising

form letter – n. a letter that has a standard form and is sent to many people

sincerelyadv. in a truthful way; with truth

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