In a world driven by quick and easy access to information, it is almost impossible not to know whom we should dedicate our letters or e-mails to.
As this is the case, it’s almost always considered impolite to write fleeting or unspecific addressees because it may suggest that we didn’t exert enough time and effort to inquire or search for such details.
This is what can be implied by using “Dear Sir or Madam” as salutation, which is a bit obnoxious for the reader.
To deal with this, we can use alternative expressions instead, for having a bunch of options with certain connotations enables us to adjust the tonality of our message.
What does using “Dear Sir or Madam” imply?
The salutation “Dear Sir or Madam” may imply that the writer doesn’t know the addressee. The honorific “Sir” is masculine, while “Madam” is feminine in English. The conjunction “or” is used to mean that the two titles are optional, thereby suggesting that the gender is also unknown to the writer.
In correspondence, it is ideal that we know whom exactly we should address our message to; however, this seemingly no-brainer task can be a bit tricky sometimes.
This is because…even the slightest details could bear certain connotations that may affect the reader’s interpretation of the writer’s message and attitude.
In the absence of a writer’s voice, any text with a mismatched tonality may impede the success of the message, and hence, it may come across as offensive.
A salutation that’s too formal could be perceived as pretentious, whereas something too casual may also evoke feelings of discomfort toward the recipient.
Writing is context-bound, and interpretation is also dependent on the reader’s angle or point of view; so, it is essential that we consider the overall context to be able to determine the appropriate tone of our message.
Apart from the date and the address information in formalistic letters, salutations are the first thing readers see. Thus, it is crucial that we know when and how to calibrate details as such.
Here are some formal alternatives to “Dear Sir or Madam.”
10 Alternative Expressions for Dear Sir or Madam
1. To [adressee’s full name]
Most likely the easiest, as well as the shortest, salutation that we can use is the preposition “To” and ideally followed by the addressee’s complete name.
Using the preposition “to” is often applied in rather formal business letters or those containing more sensitive content, such as financial or legal information.
Regardless of the language used, writing the recipient’s full name in the salutation is integral in preventing miscommunication, and hence, recommended in the formal context.
Put simply, the complete name affirms the reader that he or she is the most appropriate person to be reading the message, giving him or her the idea that it’s not supposed to be handed over to anyone else.
To Fiona Stewart:
2. Dear [addressee’s full name]
Another formal alternative is to start with the classic “Dear” but then followed by the complete recipient’s name instead of “Sir or Madam.”
“Dear” is often flexible, which means it can be used in any level of formality intended by the writer. However, the inclusion of the complete addressee’s name shifts the tonality into a formal one.
Similarly, the complete name is advisable especially when you want to guarantee the addressee that the content is intended for them.
Consider sending a cover letter to a company you have never applied to before or submitting a term paper to a renowned professor in your university. This salutation is generally applicable in such cases.
Dear Henry Anderson:
3. Dear [title or position]
Using the job title or position of the addressee is often more suitable than “Sir or Madam,” as it contains more assertive power than general name titles only.
In a nutshell, while we can just call anyone “Sir” or “Madam,” it is less likely for a company or organization to have more than one or two people assigned for a job role, especially in the middle to higher management levels.
Therefore, whenever we can’t pull up the exact name of the recipient, we can simply use his or her ongoing position to formalize the salutation.
Dear Design Director:
4. Dear [department name]
Now, in case we still have no way of pulling up the person’s role or position, we could at least try our best to address the letter or e-mail to the department.
We can do this when the message is not necessarily confidential and when it is intended for any person in the department.
A company’s name may also be used instead of the department.
Dear Human Resource Office:
5. Mr. [addressee’s full name]
Another better option is to directly write the complete name of a male addressee together with his complete name, which, in my opinion, is more effective and efficient than the previous ones explained.
Again, writing the full name is always ideal so as not to create any confusion nor miscommunication along the way.
Especially in internal communications, we can simply do away with formalities because a bond is already shared by working under the same roof, and, of course, it is efficient too.
Mr. Peter Hemsworth:
6. Ms./Mrs./Madam [addressee’s full name]
When the addressee is a female, we can choose three options for their name title: Ms., Mrs., or Madam, which can be adjusted according to the current civil status of the person.
We use “Ms.” when we know that the female addressee is single, while “Mrs.” can be used for legally married women.
In case we are unsure of the addressee’s civil status, we can simply use “Madam” which is also alternatively spelled as “Madame.”
This name title may be contracted to “Ma’am” when we want to reduce the formality of the tone.
Ms. Valerie Orrico:
Mrs. Leslie Gonzales:
Madam (or Madame) Anastasia Breakspeare:
7. To whom it may concern
“To whom it may concern” is even more impersonal than “Dear Sir or Madam” and thus, we can use it when corresponding with a relatively distant addressee, especially general ones.
For example, we can use this when sending out solicitation letters to organizations that we just randomly walk into.
In other words, this is not recommended in other scenarios where the intent of the message is more direct such as cover and complaint letters.
To whom it may concern:
Now, let’s also look at some casual alternatives to “Dear Sir or Madam,” which we can use when we want to tone down the language register.
8. Dear [first name]
The first informal alternative to “Dear Sir or Madam” is to use “Dear” but followed with the addressee’s first name rather than the complete version.
Using the first-name basis suggests that a fairly personal bond is shared between the correspondents.
This may occur when the writer and the addressee have already exchanged several messages in the past and when they are expected to keep communicating in the future.
Just remember to place the comma after the name and not after the adjective “dear.”
9. Hello, [first name]
If you feel like “Dear” is a little bit trite, another option is using “Hello.” In this case, though, the comma appears before the addressee’s first name and not after it.
This is what we refer to as a “direct address” in English, a way of mimicking the natural way of speaking directly to another person, or even animals and plants, in writing.
We may choose to add or omit a period or exclamation point after the name, depending on the tonality that we want to create.
10. Hi, [first name]
Lastly, we can tone down “Hello” even further by using “Hi.” This is good when communicating with close colleagues, friends, and family members.
Inversely, using “Hi” in the salutation may not be appropriate in formal correspondence, but it is often deemed acceptable in e-mail writing.
Always take note of the punctuation mark usage. The comma should be placed right before the name and not after it. The period is also omissible.
Frequently Asked Questions about “Dear Sir or Madam Alternatives”
What is a gender-neutral term for “sir or madam”?
A gender-neutral way of addressing a person instead of using “sir or madam” is to directly write the name without any titles. We can also use their roles in connection with the intended message, such as “Dear Applicant,” or “Dear Client.”
How can we start a letter without “dear”?
We may use the preposition “to” followed by the addressee’s full name, or we may just use the person’s name directly. If we know the gender orientation, as well as the marital status, we may add “Ms.,” “Mrs.,” or “Madam” for women and “Mr.” for men.
Is “Dear Sir or Madam” outdated?
It’s not necessarily outdated, however, it does indicate that the writer does not know the addressee’s name and gender or at least doesn’t want to assume the latter.
In writing salutations, it is always better to include the complete name of the addressee even without any name titles.
So, we should only use “Dear Sir or Madam” and other impersonal salutations when and if the full name, job title, and department name are out of the options.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.