Dear Sir or Madam... Hello everyone! Could someone please tell me, is it still OK to start an e-mail with "Dear Sir or Madam"? That's what I learnt many years ago, and I've always found it hilarious (sorry, but seriously, it just sounds weird!), but now I have to write a semi-official letter addressed to I-have-very-little-idea-about-who-they-are, and... well, maybe it doesn't sound as weird to a native English speaker? In Russian I would just start with "Hello" in such a case but maybe it would be rude in English (after all, sirs and mesdames sound funny to my Russian ear as well)? Can someone please help me out, how would a normal person start an official/semi-official letter addressed to "someone who works in this department and/or checks the mail"?
Jul 5, 2019 3:41 PM
Answers · 15
"Dear Sir or Madame" is fine; it is formal and a bit cold, but acceptable.
July 5, 2019
I agree with Chris, too. - No, we wouldn't start an email with 'Dear Sir or Madam'. "Good morning" or "Good afternoon" are a nice, polite option for semi-formal emails. - If you need to write a letter, however, Dear Sir/Madam' or 'Dear Sir or Madam' is really your only option when you're writing to a non-specific person in a department. It's a tad formal, but not 'weird' at all. We do still use this for letters. - 'Hello' is too casual for a semi-official correspondence. And, no, 'madam' and 'madame' aren't interchangeable. You'd only use 'Madame' as part of a French-speaking woman's name, e.g. President and Madame Macron.
July 5, 2019
Your question asks two different things, because you start by asking about an email, but then refer to a letter. If it is a letter then yes people still use 'Dear Sir/Madam'. If it is an email then they are often less formal and so people are perhaps more relaxed, but you're right in thinking that perhaps 'Hello' is too informal. I normally use 'Good Morning' or 'Good Afternoon' and no name or title if I'm writing a semi-official email to a department (not an individual). I don't think that the rules on this are completely fixed, and you'll probably find different things used in different countries/types of business/age groups/etc.
July 5, 2019
Thank you, Phil! E-mail — countable, mail — uncountable. Understood. [TIL people still write real letters... It's very romantic. Hopefully you don't have to start a love letter with "Dear Sir or Madam" as well, though :) ]
July 6, 2019
Kseniia: I agree with Chris. Also, note that while e-mail is countable, so-called "snail" mail is a mass noun. If we want to count what people my age would call simply "mail", we refer to letters, packages, and so on.
July 5, 2019
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