Salutation Etiquette for a Formal Address

Writing a formal letter dictates a formal salutation.
Writing a formal letter dictates a formal salutation. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Writing a formal letter denotes formal writing on the correspondence greeting. How you write the names of those receiving the letter and how you word the initial greeting will need to coordinate with proper etiquette rules and wording. By carrying over the formal tone from the letter or invitation to the envelope address, recipients will know immediately as to the formal nature of the mail.

Mimic the Envelope

How you refer to the recipient on the envelope helps guide you in addressing the correspondence. If the recipients are a married couple, the proper way to refer to them is “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.” If the person is a single man, address the letter to “Mr. John Smith.” If the letter is to a woman whom you know is married, write “Mrs. John Smith,” or “Mrs. Mary Smith.” A woman who you know to be single is addressed as “Miss Mary Smith.” When in doubt, however, always use the “Ms.” option.


Whether the correspondence is to an acquaintance, a friend or a business associate, the salutation is always the same. Open the letter by writing “Dear” followed by the person’s name. How formal the name is displayed depends on your relationship with the person. For a close friend you could opt for a simple “Dear Mary,” while for a business associate you write “Dear Ms. Mary Smith.” Regardless of the person to whom the letter is addressed, use the word “Dear” to address the individual.


The punctuation following the “Dear” and the name of the person receiving the letter is also standard, regardless of who is receiving the letter. Follow the “Dear” and the name of the recipient with a colon. For example, write “Dear Ms. Mary Smith:” The colon is a formal touch that alerts the reader that more information is to follow in the body of the letter.


The salutation of the letter is typically at the top of the page, but beneath the date, if a date is included. The date is often positioned below an address in the top, left corner. Skip a line between the date and the salutation and left align the salutation, as you did with the address and the date. Add an additional line between the end of the salutation and the body of the letter.

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