Conventional Letter Salutations in English
A reader asks if a letter salutation can include more than one honorific. For example:
Dear President Dr. Turner
The short answer is, “not in English.”
The conventional letter salutations in English are these
Dear Mr. Adams
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Adams
Dear Ms. Adams
Dear Margaret Adams
Dear Harry (if you know the person well)
Dear Dr. Adams
Dear Dr. and Mrs. Adams
When the name is unknown to the sender, the following are common salutations:
To Whom It May Concern
Dear Finance Officer
Dear Sir or Madam
The conventional English honorific for a man is Mr. For a woman, even if her marital status is known, the preferred form is Ms. For a medical doctor or a person with a PhD, the appropriate honorific is Dr.
Note: British usage does not put a period after these abbreviations.
If the sender knows the recipient’s name but not the sex, a gender-neutral solution is to use the first and last name:
Dear Cory Simpson
Other languages have other conventions, including the practice of using more than one honorific. For example, in German, when addressing a professional like a doctor or a lawyer, a writer may use two honorifics:
Sehr geehrte Frau Rechtsanwältin Fischer. (literally, “Very honored Madame Lawyer”)
Sehr geehrter Herr Doktor Strauss (literally, “Very honored Mr. Doctor Strauss”)
Foreign letter-writing conventions tend to creep into English in the context of foreign affairs. For example, I found the following usage on sites written in English:
Dear President Dr. Jakaya Kikwete—Open letter to the president of Tanzania, published on the Greenpeace site.
Dear President Dr. Fischer—open letter to the president of Austria, published on the Human Rights Watch site.
Such usage is not idiomatic in English. The writer must choose one title:
Dear President Kikwete or Dear Dr. Kikwete
Dear President Fischer, or Dear Dr. Fischer
It’s up to the sender to decide which title is more desirable in the context.
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