The opening part of an email or letter in business and professional English is possibly the most important part. Just like in other languages, it is used to both introduce what the rest of the email is about and say what contact you have had before.

So it's important to know how to write the opening part both correctly and politely. If it is written badly, people will probably stop reading the email after the first two lines.

In this online exercise on writing emails in English, we will focus on different phrases that can be used in different situations and for different needs (For example, if it's a response email or it's a first contact/request email). Although we will focus on phrases that can be used when opening formal English emails, there are also examples of phrases that can be used in more informal emails too.

Click here to see more of our free online exercises on writing emails/letters


Exercise: Advice on email openings

Read the following conversation between Peter and Juan, two work colleagues, about how to write email openings in business and professional English.

From the context, try to guess what the meaning of the words/phrases in bold are. Then do the quiz at the end to check if you are right.

Juan:'I need to reply to this email and I'm a little confused about how to start my email. Can you help?'

Peter:'Well, first of all you need to write that you're replying to their email. So normally you write Further to your email. Or you could use With reference to your email. They are basically the same. You can use both if your responding to an telephone conversation or a question somebody asked you in a meeting etc... For example, "Further to our telephone conversation".'

Juan:'But what if it's not replying or responding to anything? What could I use?'

Peter:'Then use I am writing in reference to.'

Juan:'And something for both, which is more informal would be?'

Peter:'I normally start with, I hope everything is ok. Which is polite small talk. And then depending on what the subject or purpose of the email is, I would write, "have you heard anything about...", or "what's happening with..." or "I just thought that I'd let you know that..."'

Juan:'And after that. How could I confirm some information? Something formal.'

Peter:'I suppose use I can confirm that, if you're going to write the information in the email. If the information is in a separate file, then I'd say that I have attached the information in following document.'

Juan:'And if I'm confirming good or bad new?'

Peter:'For bad news, I would use we regret to inform you that. And for good news we are pleased to inform you that.'

Juan:'And if you're asking for information?'

Peter:'Well, a formal way would be could you please confirm. An informal way would simply be do you know.'


Now do the QUIZ below to make sure you know how to start an email.

Click to see more email/letter exercises & examples


Quiz: How to start an email

Below is a definition/description of each of the words in bold from the above text. Now choose the word/phrase from the question's selection box which you believe answers each question. Only use one word/phrase once. Click on the "Check Answers" button at the bottom of the quiz to check your answers.

When the answer is correct, this icon will appear next to the answer. Click on it to find extra information about the word/phrase (e.g. when, where and how to use etc...) and a translation in Spanish.


1.

To say that you have included the asked for information inside of the content of the email, is

     

I can confirm that:
(phrase) . It is used in formal emails when the information is written inside of the email. In Spanish: "Puedo confirmar que".

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2.

An informal way to start the opening of an email, is

     

I hope everything is ok:
(phrase) A nice friendly way to start a neutral or informal email. It is then followed by a sentence that states the purpose of the email, e.g. 'Do you know...' or 'I just thought that I'd let you know that...' etc... In Spanish: "Espero que todo vaya bien".

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3.

A formal way to start the opening of an email, when you're responding and uses the word 'with', is

     

With reference to your:
(phrase) This is used to confirm that you are responding. You can also phrases like 'Further to your...' or 'In reply to your...' In Spanish: "En relación a".

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4.

A formal way to give good news/information, is

     

We are pleased to inform you:
(phrase) A formal way of saying 'I'm happy to tell you that'. In Spanish: "Nos complace comunicarle que".

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5.

A formal way to start the opening of an email, which isn't responding to a previous contact, is

     

I am writing in reference to:
(phrase) Often the beginning/first email starts with 'I am writing...' or 'We are writing...'. You follow it with either 'with reference to' or 'with regards to'. Then you write the purpose of the email, e.g. 'I am writing with reference to the airport project'. In Spanish: "Me dirijo a usted en referencia a".

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6.

When you connect a file to an email, you say

     

I have attached:
(verb) In English, it is more common to say I have attached, than I attach. In a letter, you say I have included/enclosed not attached (means something physical, which you can touch). In Spanish: "adjunto".

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7.

An informal way to ask for information, is

     

Do you know:
(verb) Normally, it followed by a question word (what, where etc..) or if, e.g. 'Do you know when the meeting is?'. In Spanish: "sabes".

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8.

A formal way to start the opening of an email, when you're responding and doesn't use the word 'with', is

     

Further to your:
(phrase) This is used to confirm that you are responding. You can also phrases like 'With reference to your...' or 'In reply to your...' In Spanish: "Con relación a su".

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9.

A formal way to ask for information, is

     

Could you please confirm:
(phrase) This is a politer form of 'Do you know'. In English, 'could' is politer than 'can'. You can also replace 'confirm' with 'clarify', which has a different meaning, e.g. 'Could you please clarify the actual problems with the project?'. In Spanish: "me podrías confirmar".

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10.

A formal way to give somebody bad news, is

     

We regret to inform you:
(phrase) This is a formal way of saying 'I'm sorry to tell you that'. In Spanish: "Lamentamos tener que comunicarle que".

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Practice

Now that you understand the email opening vocabulary, practise it by creating your own email openings in English.