John Larrysson Column: Letter Writing Format

Dear Reader,

You will be glad to read that this week's article is on letter writing format. The first part of a formal English letter is the word "Dear". This word can feel awkward if you greatly dislike the person to whom you are writing. However using "Dear" is the standard format, so use it. It means that the person is important enough to be writing to and should not be thought to be the same as Darling.

Use titles before the person's name such as Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Dr. Less common titles are often spelled out in full, Professor, Rabbi, and Captain. If you don't know the person's name use their job, title or company name: Manager, Professor, ABC Company... As a last resort use Dear Sir or Madam .

In some business courses people are taught to sort job applications by the first word of the resume's cover letter. If the letter begins with "I" move the letter to the second pile. A person applying for a job should start by writing about the company they are writing to. Example: Your company could use a person with my experience and skills.

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There are many closings for English letters. In primary school, children are always taught to end a letter with "Love," and then their name. This closing should only be used when writing to a relative, such as your grandmother, or possible future relatives, such as a lover. I have seen a letter making a serious complaint closed with "Love,". That letter was not taken seriously.

Some teachers make students learn complicated rules about which closing to use for which type of letter. (Have you met the person before? Is their social rank above or below yours?) Real English is not as strict. There are many formal closings to choose from. Just pick the one that seems the best to you. Long ago closings were very formal.

"I beg to remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant,"

Your Name

Your position (optional)

Do not use a closing like this for a modern business letter. Only use it if you are trying to be funny. Today's closings for business letters are all shortened and simplified versions of these long old formal phrases.

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The most common closings for business letters are:

Yours sincerely,

Yours faithfully,

Very respectfully,

Yours truly,





Cordial regards,

Best regards,

Kind regards,

The simple and easy rule is that the longest closing is the most formal.

Friendly letters have other variations: Cheers, Thanks, Keep in touch, Take care, Peace, All the best...

Many friendly letters just close with the person's name. Some special relationships might suggest other closings:

Yours in Christ, (to someone who attends the same church)

Comrade, (between communists, anarchists etc.)

Your loving son,

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Start with Dear, even if you dislike the person. Don't let I be your first word. Write your letter in proper sentences and paragraphs. Finally pick a formal or friendly closing and sign your name.

Some very friendly letters end with XXX OOO; the X is a kiss and the O is a hug.

I remain, Sir, your most humble and respectful writer,

John Larrysson,



To add some information after the letter that might be too awkward to include, write "P.S." after the signature. Then include the extra information. P.S. is the Latin abbreviation for post scriptum, which in English is postscript. Postscript simply means written after. English uses many Latin abbreviations.

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by John Larrysson

[email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.