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Strange-sounding email beginnings

Today in international organizations, we are writing emails to so many different people in different locations that our email language is sounding less and less English and more and more mixed.

How do you begin your emails? How do you address someone politely with a name where you are unsure of the gender or even which name is the surname or family name?

Here are some examples of inappropriate email beginnings:

What is wrong with these? How would you rectify them?

  1. Job application:                Dear Sirs, 
  2. Job application:                Dear Madam, Sir,
  3. Email to colleagues:        Dears,
  4. Email to a colleague who is a medical doctor (Jane Smith):            Dear Dr Jane,
  5. Email to an applicant for a job (Rosa Garcia):       Dear Miss Garcia,
  6. Email to an applicant for a job (name not gender specific: Alex de Ravin or Dominique Dubois):  Dear Miss or Mr Alex, or
    Dear Ms Dominique or
    Dear Mr Dominique
  7. Email to an applicant (James Henry or Barry Kenny) where you’re unsure which name is the family name:
    Dear Mr James,
    Dear Kenny,

Answer key

  1. Dear Sir/Madam, (=standard UK beginning) or Dear Hiring Manager, (= suitable US beginning)
    Career counsellors suggest trying to find the name of a person to address the email to.
    Writing “Dear Sirs” sounds like you are assuming everyone who might be reading your text is a man.
  2. Dear Sir/Madam, = standard British way when you don’t know who you’re writing to. If you know their name, use it.
    Dear Madam, Sir, = sounds feminist? It may be a French translation?
  3. Dear colleagues, (or increasingly Dear Colleagues with a capital letter), or Dear all (Dear All),
  4. Dear Dr Smith, = Dr + surname.
  5. Dear Ms Garcia,
    If the woman does wish to communicate her marital status (Miss= unmarried, Mrs= married), then they should indicate it in their signature (e.g. Yours sincerely, Rosa Garcia (Miss)) and you should respect it. Otherwise, use Ms, as it is equivalent to Mr and unrelated to marital status. Most organizations now have a rule about this and suggest using Ms as a standard title.
  6. Dear Alex de Ravin,
    Dear Dominique Dubois,
    Use full name and no title – don’t make assumptions
  7. Dear James Henry,
    Dear Barry Kenny,


Carol Waites (PhD)

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Presentation/editing by Christina O’Shaughnessy (editor)


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