Beginning A Business Letter with First Person Singular

By Maeve Maddox

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A reader wonders about beginning a letter with the first person pronoun:

I was taught never to begin a letter (business or personal) with the word “I.” This must certainly have to do with the mostly outdated concept of humility being a virtue. However, I continue to believe that humility is a virtue and that the root cause of much evil is egocentrism. This rule does cause me to rewrite the beginning of many letters to comply with this admonition. 

Like the reader, I was also taught not to begin a letter with “I” and often find myself struggling to avoid doing so. I even go back and take out the first person pronoun in the body of a letter if there seem to be too many.

Apparently many of us were taught this “rule,” but as far I can discover, it isn’t and never was a rule.

I possess an assortment of grammar books and style guides with various publication dates. The closest thing to a rule that I’ve found is this comment from a text published in 1907:

Free use may be made of the personal pronouns [in correspondence], even of the First Person Singular; though it is better not to begin many sentences with “I.”

The best practice is to choose the first word of a business letter according to the purpose of the letter.

A sales letter might appropriately begin with you, while a letter of application might benefit from beginning with I. A University of Washington letter-writing guide offers five sample application letters. Each one begins with the first person singular pronoun.

The caveat against beginning a business letter with I belongs with those other cherished grammar superstitions like “never end a sentence with a preposition.” Writers can choose to avoid doing it when possible, but there’s no need to suffer pangs of guilt when we can’t think of an alternative.

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4 Responses to “Beginning A Business Letter with First Person Singular”

  • Bernadette

    I was taught that if you are writing a business letter, you generally are writing on behalf of whatever company you work. So even though it is most likely “you” who will be doing the work, it is as your employer unless you are a sole proprietor (but even then isn’t it your business name you want to promote rather than your own name?).

  • venqax

    Myself is enlightened and relieved to hear it. One, that one being me, would not want to write awkwardly something and it is sometimes to avoid that, quite difficult. Help is what this is.

  • Jon

    @Venqax. That kind of tortured sentence structure is precisely the kind of nonsense up with which one should not put.

  • Precise Edit

    Style is secondary to purpose. First define the purpose; then determine the appropriate style.

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