Etiquette of Salutations in Letters and Emails
By Dr Albert P’ Rayan | Published: 14th February 2014 11:18 AM |
A week ago, while we were discussing how to write business letters my students raised a number of questions concerning salutations:
■ How to address someone we hold in high regard in a letter? Is it correct to address the person as Respected Sir / Madam?
■ Should we use the title Mrs or Ms for a married woman? Should we use a period (.) after the titles Mrs, Mr or Ms?
■ What is the proper salutation for someone whose gender or name we don’t know?
■ How should we address a married couple?
A salutation is a greeting in an email or a letter. It can be formal or informal depending on the writer’s relationship with the recipient. The salutations ‘Dear Respected Sir/Madam’, ‘Respected Sir/Madam’ and ‘Respected Sir’ are very common in Indian English. Senders of letters think that it is essential to address the recipient as ‘Respected Sir / Madam’ if the person is held in high regard or holds an important position. It is an old-fashioned term and native speakers of English do not use it. It is used in neither British English nor American English. It is good to avoid ‘respected’ in salutations.
In a formal or business letter, use the recipient’s professional title and second name. Assume that you are writing a formal letter to a professor whose name is Thirumalai Ganesan. The proper salutation is Dear Professor Ganesan and not Dear Professor Thirumalai. If he is your friend and you are sending him a friendly email, then the proper salutation is Dear Thirumalai (first name).
‘Ms’ is a common title used for a married or an unmarried woman. In western countries most married women drop the title ‘Mrs’ as they do not give importance to marital status. So it is good to use the title ‘Ms’ and the woman’s second name while addressing her. Assume you are writing a formal letter to a woman whose name is Mamta Sekar. The proper salutation is Dear Ms Sekar. In modern English the titles Mrs, Mr, Ms are written without a period.
What is the proper salutation for someone whose gender or name we don’t know? Sometimes it is not easy to determine the gender of a person by the name. In that case, it is good to use the person’s professional title (Dr, Professor etc) and the second name or full name without a title as in Dear Dr Morais or Dear Christy Morais. If we don’t know the recipient’s name and gender, then the salutation could be Dear Sir / Madam, Dear Professor, Dear Auditor.
How should we address a married couple? If both partners have the same professional title ‘Dr’ or ‘Professor’, then we should address the couple as Dear Drs ___ (second name). My wife and I have the title ‘Dr’ so we would be addressed as Dear Drs Rayan or Dear Drs Albert and Deepa Rayan. If one partner has a professional title and the other does not, then the salutation should be Dear Dr and Mrs ___ (second name of the husband) or Dear Mr and Dr ___ (second name of the husband).