Below you will find the ways to start (say hello) and end (say goodbye) formal emails and letters in English.

Which starting and ending phrase you should use depends on if you have a name for the person and (for the ending phrase) if you have had contact with the person before.

In addition to this, there are also some differences between what is used in American English and British English (which is commonly used in the rest of the world (including Canada)). So, if you are writing to an American, use the American style of opening and closing. But to somebody outside America, you should use the British style.

To know what sentence to use to start the first paragraph with in a formal email/letter, read Opening sentences for formal emails.

To help you choose the right starting and ending phrase for your email or letter, I will explain below each phrase in what situations you should use them and what to write after them.

Starting Phrases

Dear Sir or Madam,

(Used in both British and American English)

This is used when you don't know the name or the person you are writing to. You would normally use this greeting when writing to a company or organisation where you don't have a contact name. If you do have a contact name and that is the person you want to read it, always use that instead.

Dear Mr Smith,

(Used in both British and American English)

If you do know the name of the person you are writing to, you should start the email or letter with 'Dear' followed by the person's 'title' (e.g. Mr, Mrs etc...) and then their 'surname'. Some people use the 'full name' (e.g. Simon Smith), but I would advise you to only use the surname (it sounds more formal).

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The title you use depends on the person. If it is a man, use 'Mr'. It gets a little more complicated if it is a woman. There are three titles you can use for women. If the woman is married, use 'Mrs'. If the woman is single/unmarried, use 'Miss'. If you don't know if the woman is married or not, use 'Ms'.

If the person has a professional title (for example, they are a doctor), then you should use this title instead of the one for their sex/gender. For example, for a doctor you would use Dr Smith instead of Ms/Miss/Mr/Mrs Smith.

There is a difference how titles of people are ended between British and American English. In American English, if the title is followed by a surname, it is always ended with a full stop / period (e.g. Mrs. Jones, Mr. Jones etc...). In British English, it isn't (e.g. Mrs Jones, Mr Jones etc...).

Never use 'Dear' followed by only the 'first name' in formal emails or letters (e.g. Dear Jennifer,). This is very informal and is used to open an email or letter to a very good friend, lover or member of your family.

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Ending Phrases

Yours sincerely,

(Used in British English)

This is used to end an email or letter when you have had some type of contact with the person you are writing to before. As a result, it can only be used when you have started the email with the person's name (e.g. 'Dear Mrs Smith,'). It is never used when you open the email with 'Dear Sir or Madam,'.

Sincerely,

(Used in American English)

The equivalent of 'Yours sincerely,' in American English is this. It is used to end an email or letter when you have had some type of contact with the person you are writing to before. As a result, it should only be used when you have opened the email with the person's name (e.g. 'Dear Mrs. Smith,'). Although it shouldn't be used when you open the email with 'Dear Sir or Madam,', it often is by many Americans.

Regards,

(Used in both British and American English)

This is a little less formal way of saying 'Yours sincerely,' or 'Sincerely'. It is used to close an email or letter when you have had some type of contact with the person you are writing to before. As a result, it can only be used when you have started the email with the person's name (e.g. 'Dear Mrs Smith,'). It is never used when you start the email with 'Dear Sir or Madam,'.

If the email or letter is very formal, I wouldn't use 'Regards,'. But if it isn't, I think it is fine to end it by using 'Regards,'.

Yours faithfully,

(Used in British English)

This is used to close an email or letter when you have never had any type of contact with the person you are writing to before. You can use with both of the starting phrases from above.

Yours truly,

(Used in American English)

The equivalent of 'Yours faithfully,' in American English is this. It is used to close an email or letter when you have never had any type of contact with the person you are writing to before. You can use with both of the starting phrases from above.

American friends of mine say that this is not commonly used these day. It is more common to use 'Sincerely' instead if you haven't had any contact with the person before.


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