Dear Madam / Sir,

Discussion in 'English Only' started by anitax, Mar 2, 2006.

  1. anitax Member

    Is it correct to start a covering letter like this:

    Dear Madam / Sir,

    or would you rather use

    Dear Sirs,


    Dear Sir / Madam,

  2. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    As I female, I hate getting letters that start "Dear Sir(s)," so I'd advise you to use "Dear Sir or Madam." Don't use the slash (/).

  3. Sabelotodo Senior Member

    Great Lakes Region, USA
    English, United States
    TrentinaNE is correct. "Dear Sir or Madam" is the correct way to address a letter to one unknown person, such as the director of the personnel department.

    When addressing an entire company or an entire department of a company it gets a little trickier. If you know for certain that everyone in the group is male, use "Dear Sirs." There is no form of address for multiple women that doesn't sound awkward. "Dear Madams" doesn't work because madams sounds like hostesses in a house of prostitution. "Dear Mesdames" is too French. "Dear Ladies" would be OK, but it still sounds a bit odd.

    For a group of women, a mixed group, or in cases where you don't know, I suggest something like, "Dear Marketing Department" or "Dear ABC Company." It is less traditional and less formal, but it is sure not to offend anyone.
  4. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    If this is covering your application, it would be best if you could find a name to use - or at least to find out for sure whether Dear Sir, or Dear Madam would be appropriate.

    For normal communications on my own behalf, I very often use Sabletodo's suggestion:
    OK so it doesn't win any prizes at formal business letter school, but it is clear, and with some luck will raise a smile at the other end.
  5. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    Sage advice, panj. I agree that you should do all you can to find the name of a specific person in the organization who is responsible for the matter you're writing about. Even if it isn't exactly the right individual, he/she is more likely to pass the letter on to someone more appropriate if you've done some research before writing. (At least I am! ;) )

  6. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    When you don't know your recipient's name, write "Dear Sir or Madam:" or (more formally) "Sir or Madam:" If you know that both men and women are recipients, you can use "Ladies and Gentlemen." In a simplified letter style, you can skip the salutation altogether and write a single line in ALL CAPS announcing the subject of your message.(The Gregg Reference Manual)
    The New York Public Library Writer's Guide says that the trend is to use a "to" line, as in "To the head of the Park Department:"
  7. flame

    flame Senior Member


    how about this:

    Dear Madam,
    Dear Sir, of text.........
  8. maxiogee Banned

    No flame, that would imply that you know that you are writing to a woman and a man.
    The only acceptable form is the time-honoured "Dear Sir or Madam,".
  9. flame

    flame Senior Member

    thanks maxiogee for this explanations

    my simplistic assumption was that a letter that I send to somebody (anonymeous?) I don't know would probably go through various male and female hands before reaching the final recipient
  10. ebretos New Member

    Spanish, Spain
    What about "Dear all,"
  11. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    This would not be acceptable in a formal letter context, although it might be OK to a group of friends or a family who you know very well.
  12. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    English (UK)
    Sorry to differ, but this is not absolutely acceptable. Dear Sir or Madam indicates that you care so little about the recipient that you know nothing about him/her - not even the gender. The only kind of letter most people get that starts Dear Sir or Madam is junk mail - and it gets treated accordingly (ie filed in the round file).

    This is why other foreros are going for such things as Dear Marketing Department or Dear ABC Company. Dear Sir or Madam may be strictly 'correct', but it is completely impersonal, and the essence of a letter is to be personal.

    It all depends on context, of course, but I certainly haven't addressed a letter Dear Sir or Madam anytime in the last twenty years - or even perhaps ever. Ideally you'd find out in advance the name of the recipient. If not, Panj's Dear ABC Company is good for me.
  13. schmetterling57 New Member

    What about ending the letter? Is it correct to say "Yours sincerely" even if I don't know the recipient's name and have no way of finding out about it? Or should I stick to the "Dear Sir or Madam"......(text)... "Yours faithfully" and "Dear Mr. Brown"...(text).... "Yours sincerely" scheme?
  14. 3pebbles Senior Member

    English England
    This does often depend on who (I mean country wise) you're writing to. In theory you use 'yours faithfully' when you don't have a name and 'yours sincerely' when you do. At least in the UK.
    I would use Dear Sir or Madam - but then I'm a brit! And use the above to finish. So, can any of our pals over the pond clarify this at least for me! This would be really helpful.
  15. 3pebbles Senior Member

    English England
    Sorry forgot to add this one.
    Winklepicker, I've received letters like this and I really don't like them much. Assuming one is writing a CV in response to an ad then normally you have a name. If there's no name given then I would make it quite clear by using a heading - after the Dear etc. - so anyone opening the letter would know where it needed to go. But I have to say that is a personal dislike, so my question is do a lot of people start a letter with Dear Marketing Department?
  16. Trisia

    Trisia Senior Member

    I think that Dear Sir or Madam sounds ok, in some circumstances.
    But, were I to write a letter to a company/department, I would probably use "To whom it may concern" and forget the "Dear ___" bit. I wonder if that's considered rude :eek:.
  17. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    In answer to your question 3pebbles, 'across the pond' one would normally open a formal letter with 'Gentlemen' and close it with 'yours truly'.

    However, I have to disagree with winklepicker as regards not bothering to find out the name of the recipient of a letter. Very often, in my experience, this has no bearing on the matter. If I want tu write a letter of complaint to the electricity company, for example, there's no way I'm going to spend a lot of time and trouble to try and discover the name of the person in charge of the sector. Dear Sir/Madam, Attention; complaints department, should be more than adequate and absolutely polite.

    Dear ABC Company or Dear Marketing Depratment sounds just plain weird to my ears.
  18. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    I agree with Porteño that there it is not incumbent on the writer to find the name of a person to address in every case. It depends on your relationship to them, and Porteño gives a good example of when it is not necessary. I use it in business letters from time to time, in many cases it simply isn't practical to find out a name; time is often short. I also occasionally receive letters addressed to me in this form (not junk mail, it is rarely this formal) and don't feel offended, or badly disposed toward the writer.

    I dislike the use of the slash, which makes it seem even more impersonal, if that were possible.
  19. tepatria Senior Member

    Onondaga, Ontario
    Canadian English
    I agree with Trisia. I hate being addressed as Dear Sir or Madam. I hate it even worse when someone addresses me as Dear Madam. Makes me think of Hermione Gingold - you'll have to google that one!:D
  20. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    I truly sympathise with you tepatria. One might also think of Heidi Fleisch!!! (MadaM):D
    or was it Fleiss?
  21. wijmlet Senior Member

    New York City
    English USA
    In an Americna (= less formal) context, I often write "Dear People" if I'm writing to an organization I do not know.
  22. gnoel Member

    Belgium (french)
    Some job ad's may end this way:
    "... If you wish to join us and be part of our success, please send your resume to" instead of "... to"

    In this case, candidate should be forgiven not to know to whom (s)he writes. If it is important, why isn't the name of the contact person mentioned?

    But there is another situation which is very embarrassing: you know the name but can't deduce the gender! e.g. "... please send your resume to" if you are not familiar with indian names.

    If you write either "Dear Mr Sandinpan," or "Dear Mrs Sandinpan,", you may feel that you have one chance out of two to offend the person!
    Then, is "Dear Sandinpan," ok or too casual?
  23. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    In 1964 I took a business typing class and the standard was to write:

    "Dear Sirs:"

    Later this was not politically correct (plus there are many more women in the workforce) and it became, "Dear Sirs/Madams:"

    I have not seen, "Dear Madams/Sirs:"

    It is the custom to address couples in the USA as "Mr. and Mrs. Jones" and not "Mrs. and Mr. Jones".

    An exception to that rule occurred when my sister got her PhD before my brother-in-law and the mail arrived, "Dr. and Mr. Kurtz".
  24. Rana_pipiens

    Rana_pipiens Senior Member

    Salt Lake City, Utah
    USA / English
    I've never come across the distinction "Yours faithfully" for unknowns and "Yours sincerely" for a named addressee (it strikes me as peculiar -- why promise fidelity to strangers but mere sincerity to acquaintances?). I'd guess "Sincerely" or "Sincerely yours" are the most common closings in the U.S.

    When writing a letter to an organization on personal business, unless I have been dealing with a specific individual (over the phone, for instance), I use "Dear ABC Company," or "Dear Subscriptions Department." Traditional or not, this strikes me as the most logical choice: Although an employee will read my letter and (hopefully) deal with the matter, they do so as a representative of ABC Company, not as an individual.

    When writing letters at work to an organization rather than an individual, what salutation I use depends on who will be signing the letter. If me, I follow my own preferences and use "Dear ABC Company." If someone else, I use the more conservative "Dear Sir/Madam" (partly because a person for whom I am drafting a letter is typically a superior, and often older and more comfortable with that form).

    I only use "To whom it may concern" when I don't have even an organizational name. As an example, if a noncitizen is going to a conference outside the U.S., they need to carry a letter saying "This letter is to certify that Mr. Phee Phi Pho is an employee of ABC Company," in order to get back into the country. The letter isn't addressed to any person or organization in particular, merely whomever they might need to show it to, and while that will probably be a U.S. federal government worker, even that isn't certain.
  25. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    Another point, not exactly on-topic, but close:

    In business correspondence you would write (traditionally)

    Dear Mr. Jones:

    But in social correspondance you would write (traditionally)

    Dear Mr. Jones,

    Lately, however I have seen mostly commas for both types of correspondance.
  26. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    If I didn't know whether Veena Sandinpan was masculine or feminine, I'd write "Dear Veena Sandipan".
  27. Dear Sandipan is not OK, in my opinion. Dear Veena Sandipan, yes. The surname only with Dear seems extremely patronising, superior and uhmm...feudal sounding My dear Smith, you really must make sure that the whole of the West lawn is mowed before the weekend.
  28. I agree with the above.

    I would bother to find the name if I was trying to somehow kow-tow to the addressee (eg applying for a job, especially on spec). Or placate a customer.

    Most letters I can imagine writing nowadays, where there isn't a contact name specified (there usually seems to be one), would be letters of complaints or enquiry to businesses/government organs, and I think Dear Sir or Madam is perfectly sufficient. I would not address a department.

    I have addressed one to Dear Lauren [Surname Unspecified], as I HATE the habit of using first names but not surnames by officials.
  29. Rana_pipiens

    Rana_pipiens Senior Member

    Salt Lake City, Utah
    USA / English
    Speaking as someone with an ambiguously gendered personal name, I much prefer "Dear Given Surname" to a guess as to Mr./Ms. If I know the correspondant's only gender cue is my given name, even a correct guess annoys me. Mrs./Miss, if they decide I'm female, annoys me even more -- they're making my marital status their business as well.

    No fault of the person's (often it's an organizational requirement to address people a certain way), but if the culture's attitudes about gender were healthier, they wouldn't be forced to guess when they don't actually need to know.
  30. Seekr Of Truth New Member

    English, Estonian, Russian
    Dear members of discussion,

    I would really like to find out a possibility of using words "To whom it may concern" in the beginning of a cover letter. Is it correct when uploading a resume with a standard cover letter in purpose to apply for multiple jobs on site?

    Yours sincerely,

    Seeker Of Truth.
  31. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
  32. silardinho New Member

    Can I use capital letter after?? example:

    Dear Sir,

    Your letter was ....

    I suppose that this is not possible. But still, I am just checking
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2014
  33. morior_invictus

    morior_invictus Senior Member

    Welcome to the forum, silardinho. :)

    Well, it is not only possible but also required by many style guides that claim that it is a new sentence and thus its first word should be capitalized. I personally do not capitalize it. :eek::) Just follow your heart or a style guide you must adhere to.

    You might also find this previous thread helpful: Dear X, it's been... or It's been...
  34. Davidglasgow New Member

    Sorry to resurrect this post but I read the OP as asking if it's okay to put 'madam' before 'sir'. I found this post because I was wondering about doing this to make my cover letters stand out. Given the important of equality in the workplace I reckon it might do little harm and possibly some good.
  35. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Re post 34

    Hello Davidglasgow - welcome to the forums:)

    I really wouldn't use "Dear Madam or Sir", myself.

    If I received a letter which began that way, I would feel puzzled and cautious: why on earth would someone be writing to me like that? Is it a scam? Etc, etc....
  36. Davidglasgow New Member

    Thank you for your reply Loob. My reply was to indicate that the question isn't 'should we use dear sir or madam' but should we use 'dear madam or sir'
  37. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Sorry, David - I was editing as you were typing. I meant I would be puzzled/cautious about a letter beginning "Dear Madam or Sir":eek:.
  38. Davidglasgow New Member

    Yes maybe it looks too odd, Loob, thank you.
  39. EdisonBhola Senior Member

    Why do we capitalize "sir" and "madam" when they aren't proper nouns?
  40. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    It is the "form", so we follow the form. I guess because they represent a proper noun.

    We were taught in the early 1960s to use "Dear Sirs" when uncertain if the recipient's gender, or if addressed to multiple parties some of whom were male.
  41. FoolishQuestions Senior Member

    Hindi- India
    Is there something wrong with the slash (/) in Dear Sir/Madam? How does replacing the slash with an "or"make it better?
    Does using slash mean " Dear Sir" or "Madam"?
  42. Hitchhiker Senior Member

    Washington DC USA
    I was taught to use Dear Sir for business letters. I haven't used Dear Sir or Madam, but I wouldn't see any difference in using a slash. I have normally used the plural, Dear Sirs.

    I was asked this 20 years ago in Belgium. In translation, "Dear" sounded too familiar to them, and they kept asking me if I was sure it was correct.

    I had a friend from Australia. When she would call my family's house, my father would call her, madam. She said she liked the way he called her that. Some years later I learned that in Australia, sir and madam aren't used to address people in person or on the telephone. I don't know how they write business letters in Australia, but they often call their politicians by their first names.
  43. FoolishQuestions Senior Member

    Hindi- India
    TrentinaNE, would you please explain why you prefer the "or" to the slash/oblique? Thanks.
  44. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    You are probably better served using a title instead of Sirs or Madams. The titles are usually not gender-specific.

    Dear Admissions Officer,

    Dear Employment Administator,

    Dear Purchasing Manager,

    Dear Quality Assurance Manager,

    Dear WordRefernce Moderator,

  45. Sarakatawen Member

    English - Australia
    The convention for business letters in Australia is similar to that described in this thread. I don't believe Australia is any more or less formal than other English speaking countries when it comes to business correspondence. Madam (or Sir or Ma'am) is not commonly used in speech which is possibly why your Australian friend found it unusual.

    Calling politicians by their first names depends on context. I would call my local member of parliament by his first name if I ran into him at a neighbourhood event. In formal writing I would refer to him as the Member for ElectorateName or Mr PoliticianName. I would only refer to him as 'Tim' if I were being sarcastic/funny unless I personally knew him.
  46. DonnyB

    DonnyB Senior Member

    Coventry, UK
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I think this sounds really odd in BE usage: in my experience it's nearly always non-native speakers who do it. Certainly, the custom I was always taught is to use "Dear [person's name]" if you know it, or "Dear Sir or Madam" if you don't.

    The "Dear Madam/Sir" option was favoured over here some years ago when a few left-wing local councils decided that it was required on the grounds of sex equality, and issued an instruction to staff that when writing letters to local residents they should alternate "Dear Sir/Madam" with "Dear Madam/Sir" in equal proportions. :eek: I think that particular piece of PC nonsense has since been consigned to the bin.
  47. Mrs JJJ Senior Member

    English (British)
    Perhaps it does. But it is nonetheless the letter-writing convention in England. :)
    "Yours truly" may be used as an alternative to "Yours faithfully".

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