Yours faithfully or Yours sincerely?

By Maeve Maddox

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In 1928 H. W. Fowler listed these phrases and their uses:

Yours faithfully (to unknown person on business)
Yours truly (to slight acquaintance)
Yours very truly (ceremonious but cordial)
Yours sincerely (in invitations and friendly but not intimate letters)

With slight variations between British and American usage, these forms are still in use.

If you don’t know the name of the recipient…

Yours faithfully is British usage. It is used when the recipient is not addressed by name, as in a letter with a “Dear Sir” salutation. I have never seen it in correspondence between Americans. That’s not to say it won’t catch on. I’ve come across letter-writing guides on the web that imply that it is standard American usage.

Yours truly is the American equivalent of “yours faithfully” that I was taught by my American business teachers. When I begin a letter “Dear Sir,” I close it with “Yours truly.”

When you do know the name of the recipient…

Yours sincerely is also British. Americans tend to reverse the order and write Sincerely yours.

When I worked in England, I was told that to write Sincerely without the Yours was very bad form. Now, of course, Sincerely is a common and acceptable close for American business letters.

Which words to capitalize…

Only the first word is capitalized:

Yours faithfully,
Yours sincerely,
Sincerely yours,

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84 Responses to “Yours faithfully or Yours sincerely?”

  • Kirsty

    @Winchester Summers – I agree with your first paragraph. Whatever the technical meaning of the word, the use is extremely formal.

    In emailing/writing to friends I simply end with my name – nothing else. I would put ‘Love from’ on cards to friends if they were female, but just my name for men. The only people I’d end a letter/email with ‘Love from’ would be my parents.

  • Maeve

    James,
    I think I prefer tedious Americans to rude Brits. Happily for me, my friends in Great Britain–and I have several dating from the time I lived there–are able to discuss differences in usage and idiom without employing ad hominem attacks.

    English belongs to everyone who speaks it. Standard conventions vary from place to place, but standards of civility are the same everywhere.

  • WMD

    I’ve just translated a short cold-call email from French to English (starts with Dear Sir/Madam), and the client complained that “Yours faithfully” was too personal for a business email.

    Too personal? Really?

    I guess it comes from the very formal closings common to French correspondence, where you can have salutations like “Je vous prie de bien vouloir agréer, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués” and so on.

    I’m tempted to say, you know what, how about letting me take care of the English, since I’m the professional here? But I think I’ll just change it to “Sincerely,” as it seems to be a commonly accepted generic; though I think Willow is 100% on the button.

    Thanks for all the great comments!

  • Sophie Davis

    I am British and I am a stickler for the correct use of grammar and format! Unfortunately, even in England, many people do not use the correct combination:

    Dear Sir/Madam = Yours faithfully
    Dear Name = Yours sincerely

    There are a few thoughts as to how the term “sincerely” originated but the one I was taught, and that seems the most straight-forward, is that it derives from the Latin phrase “sine cera”, literally meaning “without wax”. This is because a letter between friends (and therefore by name) was meant to have been sent on trust, without the need for official sealing with wax.

    With the increased use of mobile phones, e-mails and texts, letter writing is fast being replaced by other forms of communication. However, I believe that there will be a place for the letter for some time yet so some effort to get the correct salutation and valediction is certainly appreciated by me!

  • Dale A. Wood

    @Ivor
    “facilitate” really is a pompous and unnecessary neologisim in English. There are plenty of well-established and useful words and phrases that mean the same thing. Why don’t you use a thesaurus?

    There you will find aid, abet, advance,assist, expedite, further, forward, foster, clear the way. grease the wheels, open the doors, make possible, promote, simplify, smooth the path, provide the means, lay the rails

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Regards” is a terrible ending for a letter or an e-mail because this includes all of these:
    { Bad regards, Cold regards, Low regards, Negative regards, Evil regards, Satyric regards, and Satanic regards}

    Writers really need to be more specific, such as with
    {Friendly regards, Good regards, Best regards, Kind regards, Warm regards) or if you really mean it {Neutral regards, Low regards, Sexy regards, or Satyric regards}

    In case you don’t kow what a Satyr was, that was a class of gods of the woods in Greek mythology, half-man and half-goat (or half-stag), all of which had wild sexual desires. The Satyrs supposedly ravished human women whom they caught alone or in small groups in the forests of Greece and the surrounding lands.

    So, if someone is said to have a Satyric smille, or to have Satyric desires, now you kow what it means!
    They were also related to the god Baccus in some way. Maybe they were his servants or his underlings.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Folks, “Yours” at the end of a letter does not necessarily mean a condition of servitude or subservience.

    When we write a letter to someone, it is a present. It becomes the property of the recipient, and not of the sender.
    “Yours” is just an abbreviation for “This is yours” – it belongs to you now, and you may keep it or dispose of it as you please.

    “Yours sincerely” and “Sincerely yours” are abbreviations for “This is yours, sincerely written,” and I am not lying to you or trying to decieve you. “Yours truly” means the same thing.

    Let me summarize: These do not indicate a condition of servitude, subservience, or slavery.

    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I once had a meeting with a man from India who went to graduate school in Great Britain and who was working in Birmingham, Alabama, at the large univeristy there. We also had lunch together.
    I was considering becoming a grraduate student there, but in the end I decided to go somewhere else.

    This gentleman wrote me an informal follow-up letter about our meeting, stating that he would like to have me in his graduate program in Birmingham, and he closed his letter with “Cheers!”

    I loved that closing, and I assumed that he picked it up in England or Scotland. Anyway, I like it so much that I have used it in some of my informal letters and e-mails over the years since then.
    I am surprised that nobody has mentioned “Cheers!” earlier — since there is something essentially British to that expressuon.
    Cheers!
    Dale in the U.S.A.

  • Alasdair

    I agree, “Cheers” is a good and informal way to end a letter or email to a family member or friend, but never in a formal setting. It does not imply drinking, although can also be used in that setting!

    In Scotland, many people end letters “Yours aye” or just “aye”, which means “forever” in that context (although also means “yes”), and implies trust and long term engagement. So, never with Dear Sir, but good with both Dear Mr Smith and Dear David.

  • Marj

    Actually, I’m trying to find best signature in a business letter.
    And I’ve realized that ‘Sincerely’ is the most formal term to use in business transaction. That’s it.

    Thanks!

  • F.Moss

    Dear All,
    This is such a strange debate. It is not just about convention it is about real meaning as opposed to perceived meaning.

    If your relations are more distant it seems logical and conventionally correct to imply that one should use a degree of faith in the relationship. That is what the writer is expecting. He is not conferring faith.

    Likewise, when the relations are closer one can expect sincerity to the be the substance of the bond between writer and reader because the contents of the communication are written (hopefully) with truth, honesty and humility. If any of these aspects are missing from your writing try writing again.

    Writing “yours” means you are in a relationship with the other person. It does not mean you are committed to a bond of love, parenthood or other stronger link. It simply offers an open hand (like a hand shake).

    IF WE ALL TRY TO BE ORIGINAL/CLEVER ALL THE TIME, NO ONE WILL BE ORIGINAL OR CLEVER ANY MORE. Conventions help us to speak in code so that when you write that extraordinary text for a loved one or in a moment of extreme need, it stands out.

  • Belfast Architects A.L.D.A.

    How to remember which to use? Simple; never use sincerely with Sir. (Dear Sir)

    If you are writing a letter to someone you don’t know you are writing to them and extending faith that they will be helpful and reply. That is when you use faithfully.

  • Tessa

    My English teacher said that the sign-off should have bothe words beginning with capital letters, i.e. ‘Yours Sincerely’. Is this correct? How is this different from ‘Yours sincerely’?

  • GAUTAM

    I feel ‘sincerely’ & ‘faithfully’ were & are still both superb words to use, however, they are just too old fashioned. In today’s business correspondence we should just stick to “Regards” or “Thanks & regards”..I feel that adding words like ‘Warm regards” & “Best regards” classifies the type of regards you wish to send out…why do you need ‘warm & best’? Will you send out cold regards or lousy regards to somebody you don’t like?
    Cheers! is fine but it’s too informal.
    Certainly not “Yours Sincerely” where a capital ‘S’ is used;it is not a Proper noun & need not be written with a capital ‘S’.
    Thank you for your patience.

  • Danny

    I worked in a company in Australia where it was official policy to end an email with “B/R” for “Best regards.” The abbreviated form is to reduce key strokes.

    B/R

  • David Schuessele

    I always finish letters and emails with “Yours Sincerely,” if it’s the first time I’m contacting someone. And “Best Regards,” at all other times other than faimly in which case it is always “Love From,”.

    All this is irrelevant though, as in ten years when we are all enslaved by the aliens we will finish each and every correspondence, for those of us allowed to learn to read and write, “Actually Yours My Alien Overlords,”

    And yes I capitalise every first letter, so what, you want a fight?

  • Charles Brodley

    Going back to Toby Lerone’s comment of May 2011. Americans do things perversely because Noah Webster wished it. Webster was 18 when the Revolutionary War started, joined the Militia and published his first spelling book in 1783 before the war ended. Of course he had an intense dislike of all things English. It is said that he wanted to “simplify” English spelling so, according to Webster the English “instalment” should be, for an American child “installment”. On the other hand the English word “travelling” for an American child was to be “traveling”. Generally, wherever the English used a single consonant Webster put in a second and where the English used two consonants he dropped one of them. It wasn’t simplicity he sought, consciously or not, it was rejection.

    Since the “Blue Spelling Book” ran into one hundred editions and taught Americans to spell incorrectly for one hundred years we, and they, are now stuck with it.

  • Mark

    British usage is shifting and in particular is shifting with email.

    Now “Regards”, “Kind regards” are the accepted norms in email correspondence and this is drifting into written correspondence as well.

  • Andy

    I was tought
    Yours “F”aithully = “F”ormal

  • Nick from london

    I am 62 now, when I was 18 my headmaster spoke to us on the day we left school; inter alia, he told us that we would need to write to him for references and the like, and to help us he suggested a salutation of “Dear Headmaster” and a closure of “Yours ever” but not as one boy had written “Ever yours”.

    For e-mails I agree with Mark may 16, 2015

  • Toby

    I was taught studying French, that the proper way to end a formal letter was “Je vous prie d’agréer, monsieur/madame, l’expression de mes sentiments les plus déstingués”, which literally translates to something along like “I beg you to accept, sir/madam, the expression of my most distinguished sentiments”….. A little overboard compared to our “Yours faithfully”, no?

  • venqax

    Funny. I am an American, but don’t use Yours faithfully simply because it is not 1836. What year is it in Britain?

  • P. A. Gallett

    Occasionally I’ve gone “the full nine yards” in closing, with something like:
    “Grateful for the favor of your kind attention, I am pleased to remain
    Your most faithful servant,”

    However, I confess I am somewhat partial to “Your boot-licking lackey,” an impulse which I’ve restrained so far.

    If I start with a salutation such as “Ave!” then I always close with “Vale!” Seems the Latin is so much simpler.

  • P. A. Gallett

    Until the recent decline of business letters, I would end missives to parties in Spain, well into the ’90s, with a traditional flourish such as “… confiado en verme favorecido con el favor de una pronta respuesta, me quedo de Vmd. su muy seguro servidor, QSSMMB.”

    which is to say “… assured of the pleasure of a quick reply, I remain Your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servant …” The “QSSMMB” is short for quien sus manos besa (who kisses your hands).

    This closing is used to ask politely for a quick reply (in this case) or to make another entreaty. There are many similar examples of elegance and courteous refinement that were required of Spanish correspondence. I’m probably the last redoubt of this epistolary art.

  • Thomas

    Sending a complaint via e-mail, and don’t know who would be getting it, so naturally I’ve started with “Dear Sir or Madam”, but as it’s a complaint, I didn’t feel “Yours Faithfully” fit, so after looking through the various comments on this page, I’ve decided to go with “Regards”.

    Yes, although it’s an e-mail, I still treat it as if it was a letter, that said, I believe I use the American form of e-mail letter writing, which is to leave out a comma after “Dear…”, this is because, for some reason, even though where I was taught this (secondary school) is in England, I believe we were being taught the US format of e-mail letter writing; perhaps our UK e-mail letter writing format hadn’t been properly established at this point?

    Similarly, even though I work in the UK, we use the US phonetic alphabet. That said though the first time I used the phonetic alphabet was for a job at the UK branch of a US company, perhaps that’s why. Still, I think some of my later jobs also use the US phonetic alphabet too, just unlike the job I had for the US company, we weren’t given out a sheet with the phonetic alphabet on, we were just expected to know/memorise them.

  • Christina

    How about the one you send the letter to is the participants of your programme? (i.e. Dear Participants), should we use ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Yours faithfully’?

  • Maeve

    Christina,
    In British usage, if you address the letter as “Dear Participant,” the “yours faithfully” follows because you haven’t addressed the recipient by name. In US usage, “yours sincerely” works both ways. When I was younger, “yours truly” was common as the more detached close, but I don’t see it much anymore.

  • kiwi-ian

    What do “regards” and “best regards” actually mean? In fact, analytically, they are as illogical as yours faithfully or sincerely.

    Many other countries (France and Spain have already been mentioned) have very flowery salutations so the English yours faithfully or sincerely seem to have already simplified things.

    Just because they are traditional does not mean they are wrong or need changing. In fact they have advantages of separating out unknown and known addressees while remaining respectful.

    So in summary,
    Yours faithfully for letters and formal emails to unknown addressees
    Yours sincerely for letters and formal emails to known addressees
    Yours truly for letters and formal emails to well known addressees
    Regards or best regards for informal letters and emails

  • Sue

    I was taught that if you write a letter ‘Dear Sir’ you should sign it , Yours faithfully.
    If you write Dear Mr Smith ( if you know someone’s name.) You should sign the letter, Yours sincerely.
    Am I correct or is this old fashioned?

  • Maeve

    Sue,
    Yes, that’s the traditional rule: “Yours faithfully” is used when the recipient is not addressed by name, as in a letter with a “Dear Sir” salutation.

  • Justin Megawarne

    “Sincerely” and “faithfully” are trite, and the debate surrounding their difference has become an empty war of superficial traditionalism.

    In most cases, the final sentence of the letter should provide sufficient closure. If it doesn’t, then improve the structure of your letter.

    Then just sign your name without the tired mannerism. And goodbye to “extra mayonnaise” just because Grandma liked it.

  • Emma

    I’m British and work in a law firm – how you sign off the letter depends on who you are addressing, so if it’s “Dear Sirs”, the sign off would be “Yours faithfully” and the signature is the firm’s name. If it’s addressed to a person by name, the sign off would be “Yours Sincerely” (with a capital “S”) and the signature is the individual writing the letter. This is generally the accepted format for formal letters, although with the rise of email, and depending on how well the recipient is known to the send, the signoffs tend to be much less formal with a kind regards, best regards, etc.

    And in respond to venqaxon, it is also 2017 here in Britain. I personally would never use “Yours truly”. “Yours faithfully” is simply a traditional way of ending a letter. There’s no need to be rude about it.

  • Emma

    P. A. Gallett – reminds me of the time I changed my email sign off from ‘Legal secretary to [name]’ to ‘General dogsbody to [name]’ for two days.

    Nobody noticed.

  • Gary Coxon

    I most often say “Kind and best regards” unless I am annoyed when I change it to simply “Regards”

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