How do native English speakers greet each other in business emails? Do people still use "Dear Sir or Madam"? What's the right way to address an email to more than one person?
Today, we'll answer these questions while introducing the five most popular greetings for business emails in English.
1. Dear ... ,
"Dear" is a safe way to start an email. Many emails you get from companies start with this word.
- Dear Valued Customer,
- Dear Reader,
- Dear Parents and Guardians,
Most of the time, "Dear" is followed by the recipient's name. This could be their first name ("Dear Charles") or a title and their last name ("Dear Mr. Smith").
But if you don't know the recipient's name, you can address the email to their department or job title.
- Dear Professor Kaminski,
- Dear Hiring Manager,
- Dear Engoo Sales Team,
Here are some other ways "Dear" is used.
- Dear all,
- Dear colleagues,
- Dear friends,
Just make sure you write something after "Dear." Unlike the other greetings in this post, "Dear" cannot be used by itself.
Finally, keep in mind that "Dear" is usually used with someone you haven't met, don't know well, or want to be extra respectful towards. So if you're emailing a client that you've worked with for a few weeks, "Dear" may be too formal. If you're emailing a coworker you see every day, it's definitely too formal!
2. Hello ... ,
These days, more and more people and companies use "Hello" to start business emails in English.
Usually, "Hello" is used with a name.
- Hello Raj and Stephanie,
- Hello Mr. Lopez,
- Hello Dr. Marsh,
"Hello" can be also be used by itself. For example, if you are writing to a department in a company, both "Hello" and "Hello Finance Department" are acceptable.
Here are some other ways to use "Hello."
- Hello all,
- Hello everyone,
- Hello again, [You can use this if you're sending a follow-up email.]
However, not everyone thinks "Hello" should be used in formal emails, and you probably wouldn't address a leader of a country with it. So if you're emailing a stranger for the first time and want to be careful, it's safer to use "Dear."
3. Hi ... ,
Native English speakers often use "Hi" in professional emails these days. As an internet linguist explains, "Hi" feels "businesslike, breezy, impersonal, like a polite social smile."
Business Insider agrees, calling it "a safe and familiar way to address someone, whether you know them or not." It adds that "you can always use the person's last name: 'Hi Ms. Gillett, … '" to make it more formal.
You will see a lot of "Hi's" in emails between coworkers, but English speakers also use it when contacting people outside their organization. Here are two examples of this in the Enron Corpus, a collection of emails written by (or to) employees at an American company around 2001.
Just make sure you don't use "Hey" by accident. Many people are not OK with it.
4. Name or Nothing at all
Finally, you might be surprised to learn that many native English speakers either just use the recipient's name or nothing at all! This has actually been shown in a few studies.
- A 1999 study of emails sent to employees at a large UK insurance company revealed that the majority did not use a greeting.
- A 2013 study found that British professionals used opening greetings much less frequently than their counterparts in Spain and Poland.
Why would a business email not start with a greeting? One explanation is that English email-writing comes from the practice of writing memos, which were more like short messages than formal letters. For example, notice how the White House memo below doesn't have any greetings.
But why wouldn't emails include the recipient's name at all? As one marketing professional explains: "I assume they [recipients] know who they are."
So the next time you receive an email from a native English speaker which doesn't start with a greeting, don't be surprised!
5. To Whom It May Concern
"To Whom It May Concern" means "to anyone who might care (about this message)." It's a formal greeting you can use when writing to:
- a group of recipients
- a recipient whose name you don't know
In the past, it was recommended that you capitalize all letters in the greeting ("To Whom It May Concern") the way you would capitalize a person's name, but many people don't follow this rule anymore.
If you google "To Whom It May Concern," you will find many articles advising you not to use it. However, a survey of 1000 hiring professionals across the US found that 83% of them don't mind it, so it's safe for the time being!
What about "Dear Sir or Madam"?
A lot of English classes teach learners to use "Dear Sir or Madam." However, many people nowadays do not think this is a good greeting. For example, here's what English native speakers on our team said about it.
I’ve seen it used, but would personally be more likely to use "To whom it may concern" for formal letters and emails.Engoo Daily News writer from Ireland
"Dear Sir or Madam" sounds very old-fashioned.Engoo Blog team member from the US
Another reason to avoid "Dear Sir or Madam" is that English has become more gender-neutral. So if you must use a formal, general greeting, go with "To whom it may concern," since it doesn't mention gender.
One Final Piece of Advice
Finally, keep in mind that no greeting works 100% of the time. Even within the same country, industries and companies have different expectations for email writing. So the best way to know how to greet others over email is to observe your coworkers and other professionals in your field.
And if you want someone to check your emails, reach out to an Engoo tutor. We have thousands of tutors around the world available 24/7 and you can even search for tutors who have worked in your industry. Learn more about Engoo here.