Formalities are important in both written and spoken English. Do you know how to properly address someone in English when you meet them in person or write to them in an email? The level of formality and appropriate greeting depend on if you know the person and how well you know them. Read on to learn about formally addressing someone in Business English.
Addressing someone formally
In spoken English
In most business settings, we use Mr., Ms., and Mrs. (We use Ms. when the woman is unmarried and Mrs. when the woman is married, if we know her marriage status. Although lately, this tradition has been changing: many people choose to use Ms. for all women.)
- Hello, Mr. Jones. Nice to meet you.
- Good morning. Mrs. Stewart. It’s a pleasure to see you again.
- Good day, Ms. Roberts.
If the person has a title, like Doctor or Professor, then we use this title in place of Mr./Ms./Mrs.
- Hello, Dr. Johnson.
- Thank you, Professor White.
Note that for all of these cases, the use of the period to abbreviate the title is an American tradition. You will see these titles without the period in British English.
For the rare cases that you meet someone with a different title, like Congresswoman or Senator or Mayor, we use this before the last name.
- Hello, Congresswoman Stone.
- Good afternoon, Mayor Smith.
After you meet the person, you will probably avoid the titles and begin referring to the person by his or her first name. However, this is not something that is done until you are 100% certain that it is appropriate to do so: usually because the person asks you to call them by his or her first name.
In written English
If you are writing to a company and you do not know the name of the person you are addressing, then use the following.
- Dear Sir or Madame:
- To Whom It May Concern:
You can also use the title of the person and the company name
- Dear Board of Directors for English, Inc.:
Notice that we use the colon punctuation (which looks like this 🙂 for a formal letter. This is a tradition in American English but not in British English.
When you know the person’s name, you can use their last name with Mr. or Ms. or Mrs.
- Dear Mr. Brown:
- Dear Ms. Jay:
Notice that we still use the colon (:) in this formal email.
If you know the person well, then you can use their first name.
- Dear John,
Here, we change to the comma for punctuation because we know the person and the letter is less formal.
For more on CISL’s Business English classes, click here.