the word "dear" when writing letters


Senior Member
When I was young, we were taught in class how to write different types of letters like friendly and business letters. I knew the convention of writing the word "dear" plus the name of the recipient:

Dear Mary,

I also know that aside from "dear", there are many other words that can be used like "hi":

Hi Peter,

I know that the word "dear" is synonymous to "love" so I thought that when you write "Dear Mary", it might be interpreted as you are affectionate with Mary, esp. if she is not a relative like a cousin, aunt, or grandmother. In order to avoid being teased, I simply wrote the name of the recipient when writing letters:


But my teacher discouraged me saying that it was impolite not to use "dear" when writing letters. Years later, I thought that she might be wrong as it might not be necessarily impolite. Maybe using "dear" is just a convention in writing letters and it doesn't really mean anything. So I always used either "dear" or "hi" since then.

Do you agree that it is impolite when you omit "dear" or "hi" and simply write the name of the recipient plus a comma?
  • Wobby

    Senior Member
    English [England]
    You're right, 'dear', despite its traditional meaning, has just come to be used in convention for writing formal letters - e.g. "Dear Sir/Madam" - I doubt that most of the people that write these letters really have any sentiment of love in them. I would have no problem with writing 'Dear Mary' or 'Dear Peter', apart from it is quite formal. It would be a different story to write 'Dearest Mary' or 'Dearest Peter', which does carry those connotations.

    If I knew Mary or Peter on a friend basis, I would say 'Hey Mary' or 'Hi Mary' or something, and that would be fine.

    Omitting any sort of greeting would not really be impolite (although certainly shouldn't be used in formal letters), but would look a bit weird or brief... For example, you wouldn't tend to start a book or essay without an introduction. I would only do it for one of those fridge messages such as "Mary, gone out to buy some bread, Wobby". But you can sign off informal letters without saying 'from'.


    Senior Member
    English English
    I wouldn't think twice about writing Dear Sir/Madam/Miss So-and-so to start a formal letter.
    Unless it was a letter of complaint: in which case I would start it Sir/Madam.

    I almost always start informal letters with Dear Francis/Wobby/Fluffybum [whatever]; occasionally Hello Francis/Wobby/Chuckychops.
    I wouldn't dream of starting a friendly informal letter with Francis/Wobby/Petalkins ... because it sounds pretty unfriendly to me.


    Senior Member
    English - United States
    Dear Sir/Madam is exactly what I would use to start a formal letter. When writing a formal letter to a business (where you're not sure of the exact person's name), you would use:

    "To Whom it may concern:"

    I agree with Ewie in that I would never start a message to one of my friends using their name. Instead, I would use Hey, Hi, Yo, or simply nothing (since they're a good friend and therefore I need no introduction/greeting).

    Whenever I'm sending an e-mail to a coworker, I use only their name. I don't think it sounds unfriendly in this case; it's just cutting through all of the unnecessary formalities and getting to the point since we're in a business environment. Again, if it's a coworker that's also a friend, I typically won't use an introduction at all.


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Sticking with letters - I always use "Dear ..." at the beginning of a letter, no matter what kind of letter or what degree of formality or informality.


    New Member

    I agree with your view point about using "dear" in any mail writing. I have been caught in a difficult position whether if I should use it every time I start a note, or a formal letter writing.

    So I use Hi, Hello, Good day to precede the recipient's name more than using "Dear". For an example, I wrote a letter to a customer who had delayed in paying for my service several times. For the first time in chasing his payment, I could use "dear" in the greeting section of the letter, But when he has just ignored my followup letters, I am thinking if I don't use "dear", the relationship with him will be jeopardized immediately and makes the receivable hopeless to be collected. If I use "dear" consistently in the following chasing letters, then wouldn't it be too false?

    So, generally I tend not to use "dear" any more.


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Molisang, I suspect you're reading more into the 'dear' than most English speakers. A different matter if you write 'my dear' or 'dearest', but 'dear' itself is conventional. If you omit it, it might signal hostility. Perhaps that's what you want to signal?


    New Member
    Natkretep, Thank you for the assurance. But if in the example I mentioned about in my last post, you had a customer who just ignored your urge for the invoiced amount to be paid, will you be still using the word "dear" in the e-mail or letter to him? I saw a letter written by a debt collection agent to a customer. The content was really serious and quite tough toned, however, they still used Dear (the customer's name) as a start. That made me suspect that the word "dear" does not equal to the Chinese translated meaning. What you reckon?


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Email is a bit different, but I use 'dear' for all business letters, and consider it merely a convention. In English, there are terms that you use because you defer to the convention and speakers know not to read anything into it. It also shows that you are in control of the situation and are not letting your emotions override polite conventions. A lawyer refers to another lawyer in court as 'my learned friend' regardless of whether they are on friendly terms. In parliament, the members called 'honourable', whatever their moral standing is.

    That's my take on this anyway. Maybe other people feel differently ...



    New Member
    Thank you, Natkretep, for the examples. Now I have more confidence in the use of "dear" when going to write a more formal mail, by pen and paper or electronically.
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