How to start emails

If you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to, start business emails with either of the following:

Dear Sir,
Dear Madam,

Dear Madame, is wrong.

If you don’t know whether you’re writing to a man or a woman use:

Dear Sir or Madam,

It is not usual to start an email To whom it may concern. This should be reserved for letters of reference or similar communications when the recipient is an unknown third party.

It is always better to use somebody’s name if you know it. If it is the first time you are writing to someone, use either of the following:

For men:   Dear Mr Smith,
For women:   Dear Ms Smith,

Once you get to know someone, i.e. after exchanging one or two emails or if you meet them in person, it is usually OK to use their first name.

In UK English we do not add full stops after Mr and Ms. But in US English it is correct to do so. It is also usual to use a colon instead of a comma after the salutation in US business letters:

Dear Mr. Smith:
Dear Ms. Smith:

If you are writing to a man and a woman use Dear Mr Smith and Ms Jones,

Use Dear Sirs, if you are writing to more than one person even if the group of people includes women.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, is wrong. “Ladies and Gentlemen” is only used in formal speech.

Dear Madams, is wrong. Dear Ladies, is best avoided.

If you are writing to more than one woman the strictly correct (though old-fashioned and rather pompous) salutation is Dear Mesdames, but, if possible, it is better to use their names or their title (if they all have the same one) e.g. Dear Directors, Dear Members of the Board,

Once you get to know the group of people you may use the less formal Dear All, for both men and women.

The word Dear may also be omitted in less formal emails. Instead, you may just open with the person’s first name/people’s first names.

The first line of an email or letter should always start with a capital letter:

WRONG
Dear Mr Smith,
with reference to your email of 25 October…

RIGHT
Dear Mr Smith,
With reference to your email of 25 October…

Here are some example opening sentences for emails:

I hope you enjoyed your holiday and are finding it easy to settle back in to work.

It was good to meet you in [place]. I hope you had a safe journey home.

Thank you very much for your email. I am glad to hear that you and your family are well.

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I apologise for not replying sooner, but I have been very busy these last few weeks.

Thank you for your email of [date]. Please find my reply to your query below.

I am writing with regard to XXXX.

Thank you for getting in touch with us about XXXX. (Less formal, more friendly)

Thank you for contacting us regarding XXXX. (More formal)

With reference to your email of [date], I would like to bring the following to your attention.

As a follow-up to our phone call this morning, I would like summarise the key issues.

Re the question you raised in your previous email, please find my explanation below.

Following our meeting on [date] / in [place], please find below a summary of the points we discussed.

In reply to your query regarding XXXX, I would like to make the following points.

Phrases best avoided:

I hope this email finds you well.

Please be informed that…

Please be advised as follows.

This email concerns…

For more information on writing emails see: How to end emails

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28 Responses to How to start emails

  1. Chris Dugdale says:

    The first issue to decide is whether e-mails are the daughters of telexes or the sons of letters. Telexes (and even more so telegrams) were terse and omitted greetings. If e-mails are their descendents, then cutting straight to the matter in hand is quite acceptable.
    As a point of detail, I would always avoid “Dear Sir or Madam” – it suggests that the writer doesn’t know and hasn’t bothered to find out – not the right way to start a relationship! Use “Dear Colleague” or something similar.

    You might make explicit mention of the convention that the addressee is always capitalised, thus “Dear Sir”. As a matter of policy, I always use a singular in e-mails I am sending to multiple addressees (thus “Colleague”) – it is intended to recognise that each one is being addressed individually (they may of course, see through that ruse).

    • Chris – Thanks for your comment. The sort of emails I’m referring to here are more like letters. But I agree, some emails may more closely resemble telexes, and for those I would accept a more concise style.

      I agree that “Dear Sir or Madam” is better avoided. But does “Dear Colleague” indicate you’ve made any more effort to find out who you’re writing to? To me it also sounds a little too informal. But this is something of a cultural issue. This blog is for non-native English speakers, and in some cultures they still use forms of address which sound overly formal or old fashioned to Brits or Americans. For example, in Polish, business emails to a man usually begin “Szanowny Panie”, which literally means “Honourable Sir”. You use this even if you know their name, as there isn’t a commonly used equivalent of “Dear Mr XXX”. So if you’re writing in English to a Polish business associate, especially if it’s for the first time, “Dear Sir” would probably be the most appropriate form of address.

  2. Harshi Herath says:

    really helpful tipps. thank you… 🙂

  3. DannyK says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely get back to this post every now and then.

  4. Svetlana says:

    Is there a specific reason why “I hope you are well” is recommended, while “I hope this email finds you well” should be avoided?

  5. Svetlana – Maybe it’s just me, but I find it odd that an email can “find” anything. Also, even if I accept that it can, to me, “I hope this email finds you well” sounds overly formal. By comparison “I hope you are well” sounds clear, concise and professional. That’s my opinion, but it may just be my personal preference.

    • Bill says:

      I think “I hope you are well” at the start of an email is terrible, and I cringe every time someone sends me one saying this. Supposing I’m not well? Do you really care anyway? What’s wrong with simply starting with “Hi… ” or “Dear…” and cutting to the chase? “I hope you are well” is superfluous and should be avoided at all costs.

      • Bill – I tend to agree with you. It’s a pretty meaningless phrase and I’ve taken to cutting it from emails when I edit them. But the trouble is, most non-native English speakers I come across find our culture of cutting to the chase too abrupt, or even rude. They like to pad out their writing with “polite” phrases because it’s correct to do so in their own language. And they don’t see why writing in English should be any different. And why should it if, say, a Pole is writing in English to a German? The culture or the pet hates of native English speakers are increasingly irrelevant as English becomes the global language. You’ll know if you’ve had any exposure to Eurospeak – there’s nothing you can do except cringe and bear it.

      • Nadezhda says:

        I agree with you that the opening “I hope you are well” looks rather needless, but to my surprise this phrase is common in formal e-mails from native English speakers, for at least in my own practice…

  6. Ehsan says:

    The blog content as well as comments and feedback were useful and informative.
    Thank You Very Much !

  7. Chris Dugdale says:

    Be guided by what you would say in a conversation. You might not say ‘Hi’ to the chairman of your employer but you might say ‘Hi’ to team-mates. Likewise ‘Dear Xxx’ might be appropriate in a business relationship. I rather join with Bill in saying that any remarks about health (unless sincere remarks to a close friend who has been ill) are likely to be seem as insincere and perhaps viewed as a cheap attempt to ingratiate.

  8. Rishan says:

    The blog content as well as comments and feedback were useful and informative.
    Thank You Very Much;

  9. Andrew says:

    Why begin the first line after the salutation with a capital letter? It is clearly not the start of a new sentence, but the continuation of the sentence starting Dear XXXX.
    Secondly, the phrase ‘Please find XXX below/attached’ is clumsy, ugly and entirely superfluous. If you attach/ include the item/ information, it will most assuredly, be found.

    • Andrew – I agree that the first line does not seem to be the start of a new sentence, but it is letter-writing convention in English to start with a capital letter. Whether you think this convention should include emails is up to you, but some people will consider starting with a small letter to be a mistake. And “Please find attached…” is again convention. It’s polite and draws the reader’s attention to something additional. I agree that enclosures in letters are unlikely to be missed, but attachments to emails are more likely to be.

      • Chris Dugdale says:

        ‘Please find attached …’ I’m afraid is the sort of phrase used by those with limited skill with words who thus prefer to write ‘junior officialese’. Much better to write what you would say ‘I attach (specify what you are ataching)’ plus any other remark such as ‘I am copying this e-mail to XXXX’.

  10. Bill says:

    I know what you mean by “junior officialese” but I’m not sure that I agree with you on this one. Sometimes an alternative to “I attach” needs to be found. Sometimes I must write corporate emails in the third person so “I” anything is inconsistent with the rest of the text. In this case “please find attached” seems OK to me.
    The phrase that I find most annoying is “as per…”

  11. mfaliv says:

    How should we start an email to a few friends , friendly and polite as well? what should we replace ” I hope all is well , I hope this email finds you” for?
    Thank you….

    • I suggest “Dear All”, then you could refer to some recent news/event that everyone knows about, or otherwise just go straight into the topic of the email. There’s really no need to say anything like “I hope you are well”.

      • Bill says:

        As agreed, all those “hope” sentiments are superfluous at the beginning of an email. Just start with “Dear all” or “Hi all.”

  12. Bandar Zaher says:

    Thank you very much 🙂

  13. Sama says:

    Thanks a ton

  14. mary says:

    Thanks a million

  15. Keira says:

    @Bill I have to disagree with the comment that ‘I hope you are well’ or ‘I hope that this e-mail finds you well’ as unnecessary. The person writing this doesn’t think you are’t doing well. They’re treating you like a human being and opening the email conversation with the awareness that they can’t see your face. Imagine you deal with a person face-to-face that is furious. Would you use the same words that you would with a person that is happy?

    Maybe it is a cultural formality. It’s suppose to set the mood of gentleness in contrast to the blunt or apparent demands in emails. I am not a professional in business etiquette, but in customer service people get better service if you approach the receiver with humanity.

    • Bill says:

      I appreciate the point you are making, but really it IS a superfluous comment.
      It was never used as the start to a letter, and an email is the modern equivalent. There is no need to enquire as to the recipient’s health. You might believe that such an enquiry sets a nice tone for the subsequent message, but it doesn’t. If anything, it detracts from the email’s sincerity.
      If you would seriously like to enquire as to the recipient’s health, do so in the body of the email. Don’t do it as an insincere throwaway statement at the start.
      I think we will have to disagree on this point as I will never start an email in this manner, and emails that I receive from new correspondents that enquire as to my health immediately put me on my guard. Rather than demonstrating a human kindness, I feel they portray a certain falseness.

  16. Pingback: How to end emails | Common Mistakes in Business English

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