Writing letters is a skill often needed in general life when enquiring about a service or responding to a request for information.
English letter writing can seem a daunting task to non-native speakers but all EFL students can learn a few useful phrases that will make writing letters in English much easier.
When writing letters in English, you should always begin with ‘Dear …’ unless you are writing to a friend or writing an informal note, in which case you might prefer to write ‘Hello …’ or ‘Hi …’ or the American ‘Hey …’
- Dear John (informal, or if you know the person very well)
- Dear Mr Smith
- Dear Ms Smith (always use ‘Ms’ when writing to a woman, unless you know that she prefers ‘Mrs’ if married or ‘Miss’ if single)
- Dear General Manager
- Dear Sir or Madam (use this if you don’t know who you are writing to)
- In reply to your letter,
- With reference to our phone call,
- Thank you for your letter of September 3rd.
- Further to our conversation yesterday,
- I enjoyed our conversation last week.
The reason for writing
- I am writing to enquire about
- I would like to enquire about
- I would like to confirm my reservation/ my order / apologise for my behaviour/ reply to your phone call / organise a meeting / suggest that we meet up
- I would be grateful if you could
- Would it be possible for
- Could you possibly
Agreeing to Requests
- I would be delighted to (accept your invitation)
Giving Bad News
- Unfortunately, I have to inform you that
- I am afraid that
- It is with sadness that I must inform you that (you will no longer be required) / of (your redundancy)
- Please find enclosed
- I am enclosing
- Enclosed, you will find
- Thank you for your help
- Thank you for your time
- Thanking you in advance
- Please contact us again if we can help you in any way / there are any problems / you have any questions.
Reference to Future Contact
- I look forward to hearing from you soon / seeing you on Friday / meeting you.
- Yours faithfully, (Formal, if you don’t know the name of the person you’re writing to)
- Yours sincerely, (Formal, if you know the name of the person you’re writing to)
- Best wishes/ Best regards / Kind regards (more informal, If the person is a close business contact)
Sample Business Letter
45 Red Lane
September 3rd 2009
Mr T. Clark
Dear Mr Clark,
Thank you for sending me the new kitchen furniture brochure, which I received yesterday.
Further to our telephone conversation, I would like to place an order for the large, green table with mahogany legs. Please find enclosed my order form with payment details.
I would be grateful if you could let me know when I should expect delivery.
I look forward to hearing from you.
A well-structured letter creates a good impression. Formal business letters are best typed, rather than hand written. Typing looks more professional and also ensures that handwriting does not get in the way of sense or style.
When writing letters in English, your address goes at the top on the right. The rest of the letter can be in “block” format, with each line starting on the left. There should also be plenty of white space.
1 Your details
Put your address, telephone, fax and/or email at the top on the right.
2 The date
The date comes next, below your address. In British English, the numerical date is written day/month/year (e.g. 27/3/09), but in American English it is written month/day/year (e.g. 3/27/09). It always looks good to write the date in full (27 March 2009 or March 27th 2009).
3. Destination name and address
This is the name of the person to whom you are writing, his/her job title, the company name and address. This should be the same as on the envelope and written on the left side, lower down than your own address.
If you have a reference code which you are replying to or writing about you should put it here before the body of your letter.
5. Salutation (Dear…)
A formal letter in English almost always begins with ‘Dear…’, even if you do not know the person. There are several possibilities:
- Dear Mr Smith
- Dear Ms Smith (always use Ms for a woman unless you know she prefers Mrs or Miss)
- Dear Sir (if you don’t know the name, but know it is a man)
- Dear Madam (if you don’t know the name, but know it is a woman)
- Dear Sir/Madam (if you don’t know who you are writing to or if they are a man or woman)
6. The body
The letter itself, in well-structured paragraphs.
8 Ending (Yours…)
- Yours sincerely (if you knew the name in the salutation)
- Yours faithfully (if you didn’t know the name in the salutation)
9 Your signature
Sign your name in black or blue ink.
10 Your name
Type/write your full name under your signature. You can also put your job title and company underneath.
Informal Letters to a Friend
When writing letters in English to a friend, you need to use different vocabulary and a different writing style to when writing to a business contact. Of course, when writing a Christmas card in English or a short postcard, you will also need a different style.
Here are some examples of ways to start and end your letters to an English friend:
|Dear John||How are you?|
|Hello John||I hope you are well|
|Hi John||How’s it going?|
|Happy Birthday John!||It was great to see you last week|
|Greetings John!||Sorry for not writing sooner, I’ve been really busy|
|Hiya John (very informal)||It was good to catch up last weekend|
|Howdy John! (very informal, fun)||Everything is fine here|
|Closing comments||Signing off|
|Hope to hear from you soon||From|
|Hope to catch up again soon||Love|
|I’ll look forward to seeing you next week||Love from|
|See you soon!||Best wishes|
|Write soon!||Bye for now|
|Take care!||Ta’ra / Ta ta (very informal, Northern British English)|
|Have a good week!||Bye!|
|Can’t wait to see you!||Cheers (British English)|
Share your thoughts on English letter writing
Can you think of any more useful phrases for writing letters in English?
What do you find most difficult about writing letters in English?
Do you have any tips for better English letter writing? Let us know in the comments.