By Paola Pascual on Mar 21, 2023 6:15:00 AM
We've talked about the most helpful email phrases you need to know; now let's focus on the very beginning –your email greeting. If you've ever wanted to ignore an email because it spelled your name incorrectly or it started with 'To Whom It May Concern,' you probably understand that your email greeting is more important than it may seem. In this post, you will learn how to address someone in a business email.
Why email greetings are important
Your greeting in an email is the first thing that your reader sees, and it sets the tone for the rest of the message. Understanding how your recipient might perceive your greeting will allow you to choose the best one for each situation.
Email greetings for professional emails
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, there's something you need to remember. The convention for email greetings in English is as follows:
- 1. Write your greeting
- 2. Add a comma after your greeting
- 3. Leave a blank line
- 4. Start your message with a capital letter
Look at the format of these greetings in the email sample below.
Should you add a comma after the email greeting?
Technically, yes, but nobody does (and, to be honest, it looks a bit odd to most people). The theory says that when you address a person by adding their name in the middle of a sentence, you should surround it with commas (e.g. "As I told you yesterday, Jack, you need to work harder!"). In grammatical terms, it's called vocative. However, since most people leave out the comma in email greetings, it has become the standard. So, short answer: don't add a comma after "Hi" or "Hello" :-)
These conventions are different in different languages, and they're just that –arbitrary agreements. There is really no explanation for it (I know, languages are fun sometimes).
How to choose the best email greeting
You have quite a few options when it comes to choosing the right greeting for your email. To make the best decision, you will need to ask yourself the following questions:
- 1. Who are you emailing?
- 2. What's their role?
- 3. Where are they from?
- 4. What kind of relationship do you have with them?
- 5. What's the reason for your email
These will help you understand which of the following greetings is your best bet. In general, when in doubt, choose to be more formal –you can always make it more informal in the follow-ups.
Common email greetings you need for professional emails
Let's start with the email greetings you do want to use, and then we'll move on to the greetings you may want to avoid. In general, most emails start with "
"Dear" is usually the best option for formal emails. In most countries in Asia and across Europe, this is the greeting we use when we don't know our recipient (or when we don't know them very well). If you type "greeting email sample", you will probably find this greeting the most often.
In lower-context countries –such as Australia and the United States–, we tend to use "Dear" to address a person in a position of respect (e.g. "Dear Lieutenant Oakes"), but it is quite uncommon for regular business emails.
"Dear" is also a great option for formal cover letters. Traditionally for cover letters, we use "Dear" followed by an honorific (Mr. for male or Ms. for female), the person's last name, and a colon (e.g. "Dear Ms. Lottridge:"). If you are not sure about their gender, you can just use their full name (e.g. "Dear Luca Lottridge"). If you can't find the hiring manager's name, you can always use "Dear Hiring Manager."
- When should you use "Dear"? For formal emails, introductions (especially in Asia and Europe), cold outreach to a CEO, and cover letters.
"Hello" is somewhere between the more formal "Dear" and the friendlier "Hi". This salutation also works without a name (i.e. "Hello,").
Although there is no consensus, nowadays, international communications are becoming more informal and we tend to drop the more formal "Dear" and opt for a more neutral "Hello".
In the technology sector and the startup world, where business etiquette is usually more casual, we see that more people are using "Hello" for job applications and business introductions. It sounds professional and less stiff than "Dear".
After a few email exchanges using "Dear", it is common to transition to "Hello" once you have established some rapport with the recipient.
- When should you use "Hello"? For general business emails, business introductions, job applications (mainly in tech companies and startups), and after a few interactions using "Dear".
This email greeting is probably one of the most common ones nowadays. It's friendly, relaxed, and welcoming (and it still sounds professional in most contexts). Some even claim that "Hi" has replaced "Dear" as the most common email salutation (Forbes).
We've noticed that it is more and more common to receive emails from strangers approaching you with "Hi Alex," or just "Hi," instead of "Dear Alex," or "Dear Mr. Smith,". But while this might be true in some countries or contexts (like Israel or the tech world), in others (like Germany or Japan), we still send more formal emails.
After a few email exchanges using "Hello", it is common to transition to "Hi" once you become more familiar with the recipient.
You may also see "Hi there," in a cold email, but to err on the safe side, save it for colleagues and in more informal situations.
- When should you use "Hi"? With colleagues, in informal situations, in general emails in low-context countries (e.g. Israel, United States, Australia), after a few interactions using "Hello", in a newsletter.
"Hi everyone," or "Hi everybody," are friendly ways of addressing a group of people. "Hi All," is also a valid option, although slightly more formal.
- When should you use "Hi everyone,"? When emailing a group of people you have a relationship with (colleagues or a close customer).
"Greetings," is an option you can use when you don't know your recipient's name or you're writing to a general email inbox (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org). It sounds professional, not too formal, not too informal.
- When should you use "Greetings,"? When you don't know your recipient's name or you're emailing a general email inbox.
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Be careful with this one! In most contexts, it sounds very informal and unprofessional, so when in doubt –avoid it! It is a common salutation to address close colleagues or friends (and also when messaging in Slack). In American corporate, Australia, and the startup sphere, "Hey" is a valid greeting for business emails.
After a few email exchanges using "Hi", it is common to transition to "Hey" once you become more familiar with the recipient.
- When should you use "Hey,"? With friends and close colleagues or when your recipient does it first.
PRO TIP! If you are not 100% about when to use "Hey," only use it when the other person does it first. This technique is called mirroring, and it will help you stay professional and not mess up.
Email greetings you want to avoid
There are many bad ways to start an email and here are some of them.
To Whom It May Concern,
Most guides will tell you that this is a good email greeting for formal situations when you don't know the recipient. You may even find this greeting in email samples.
However, it is impersonal and outmoded –even off-putting in some situations. If you are applying for a job, your chances of getting it will usually be higher if you use "Dear Name," or "Hello Name," when addressing the hiring manager.
- What to use instead of "To Whom It May Concern,"? Better use "Dear Name," "Dear Role," or "Hello Name".
Dear Sir or Madam,
This traditional salutation –fortunately falling into disuse– often shows that you couldn't be bothered to look up your recipient's name and address a specific person.
- What to use instead of "Dear Sir or Madam,"? Better use "Dear Name" or "Dear Role".
Hello Ladies and Gentleman,
The business world –and the world for that matter– is moving towards a gender-neutral environment, and using this gender-specific greeting is much less common these days.
- What to use instead of "Hello Ladies and Gentleman,"? Better use "Hello everyone," or "Hi All".
Arrgh! Is there anything more off-putting than receiving an email where your name is misspelled? Double-check that you wrote it correctly. If you are not sure about their name, look them up or use the name they used to sign off.
PRO QUESTION! Can I use a nickname in an email greeting? In general, don't use a nickname or a shortened version of a name unless they sign their reply with it. For example, if you are emailing Elizabeth, don't assume they are called Beth. However, if they sign off with Beth, then do address them with Beth.
Keep Improving Your Business Emails
Continue improving your communication skills for professional situations. Get in touch with Talaera if you wish to take your professional English communication skills to the next level, or join one of our live free webinars.
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[Article originally posted in December 2018.]