Grammar Hitting the Right Notes with Salutations and Closings |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Hitting the Right Notes with Salutations and Closings

We live in an age of constant communication through multiple channels. Written correspondence can be as full of effort and care as a handwritten letter or as abridged and impulsive as a tweet or a text.

We also exist in a time when the line between professional vs. personal and formal vs. informal addressing of someone can blur. Current conversation channels have often changed how we write, but we are still human, and we appreciate being approached in the correct context of a relationship.

In written communication that identifies people in a dialogue, the salutation is the top line in which we greet or address the person to whom we’re writing. The closing is the short line at the end that signals the message is finished.

How we open and close our correspondence shows we know to whom we’re speaking and why. In today’s world of content overload, we as careful writers want to ensure we engage each message and audience with language that fits.

Personal Correspondence

If we’re addressing someone we know well, such as a friend, a family member, or an associate with whom we’re close, a fail-safe salutation remains Dear (First Name). When writing email, we might also open with HiHelloGreetings, or Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening. Salutations in personal correspondence are followed with a comma (e.g., Dear Samantha,).

Our preferred treatment of a salutational phrase (i.e., including more than one word) would be to capitalize all words if it stands alone (e.g., Good Afternoon) and capitalize only the first letter if it includes a personal address (e.g., Good afternoon, George).

Closing personal written communication offers a wide range of phrasing and words depending on the type of relationship and the tone the writer wants to convey. Just a few include:

Keep smiling Till we meet again
Yours truly Fondly
Love Faithfully
With love Sincerely yours
Many thanks From
Your friend Wishing you well

The first word is typically the only one capitalized in a personal closing; however, hard-and-fast rules do not govern this area.

Also note that personal closings are followed by a comma (e.g., Your friend,).

Business Correspondence

A business relationship can be close or distant; in either case, the careful writer will remain aware of a professional context with proper boundaries and degrees of distance.

The salutation Dear (Name) can be used as the writer sees appropriate in business correspondence. The name can be the recipient’s first name, full name, or last name preceded by Mr., Mrs., or Ms. If unsure of a recipient’s gender, include the full name and exclude the prefix.

Salutations in business correspondence are followed by a colon (:) if formal or a comma if informal.


Dear Susan, (informal, closer relationship)

Dear Mr. Welsh: (formal, relationship not as close)

Dear Mrs. Martinez: (formal, you know she prefers “Mrs.” over “Ms.”)

Dear Ms. Martinez: (formal, she prefers “Ms.” or you aren’t sure of her preference)

Dear Macy Stapleton: (formal, relationship not close)

Dear Tyler Clancy: (formal, gender not known)

In any event, be diligent about spelling names correctly, including a person’s use of hyphens and second capital letters (e.g., Sheila Perkins-McMurtry as opposed to Sheila Perkins Mcmurtry).

The salutation might also include the person’s title. Include the last name if it is known or exclude it if it isn’t. This context will almost always be formal.


Dear Chief Financial Officer Smith: (formal with title, name known)

Dear Marketing Manager, West Region: (formal with title, name not known)

In today’s business communication, careful writers will avoid the once-acceptable salutations Dear Sir or Madam and To Whom It May Concern. Such openings suggest the sender did not take time to learn basic details about the recipient, which may not make the best first impression.

To close business correspondence, you can use one of several commonly accepted sign-offs as you believe fit. As with personal messages, first-word capitalization is considered standard.

Respectfully yours Kind (or Best) regards
Sincerely yours With regards
With many thanks To your continued success
All the best Sincerely
Best wishes Cordially

Just like please and thank you, proper salutations and closings are small and simple investments that can help you reap desired returns. Keep them in the writer’s toolbox you maintain to connect with others through the meaning and power of words.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

43 responses to “Hitting the Right Notes with Salutations and Closings”

  1. Alexa Selner says:

    First of all, I’d like to thank you for putting together these weekly posts. I thoroughly enjoy the information and appreciate the opportunity to test my knowledge. I evaluate Customer Service emails for a living. My fellow “Quality Coachers” and I check for content and appropriate grammar/ punctuation in business emails. We have several associates who choose to begin professional messages with “Good Morning,” or “Good Afternoon.” We coach these representatives to write “Good morning,” or “Good afternoon,” because there is no reason the second word should be capitalized. After reading your post, however, we are stumped as to why it is considered appropriate to write “Good Morning” as a professional greeting. “Morning” and “Afternoon” are not titles or proper noun phrases. We didn’t see anything in the capitalization link to explain why it would be acceptable to write “Good Morning” in a professional email. Can you please clarify?

    Thank you. We appreciate your assistance!

    • The standard practice is to capitalize the first word and all other nouns in a salutation when a name is not present (e.g., Good Afternoon vs. Good afternoon, George). That being said, we would not normally advise using such informal salutations as “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” in business communications unless there is a suitable familiarity between sender and sendee.

      • Adity says:

        Good morning, Chad. Good morning, Chad!

        Which is correct?

        • says:

          We would use a colon or period at the end of a salutation in formal correspondence. A comma or exclamation point is acceptable for informal communication.

  2. Erik S. says:

    Good afternoon, folks (a decidedly less formal salutation)

    How about addressing the punctuation when the saluted parties aren’t preceded by an adjective – such as, for example, “dear”?

    It seems that a usage has developed, one in which the combined interjection/vocative comma is omitted if the interjection is only one word:

    Hello Ann, …
    Hi Erik, …

    … as opposed to, for instance:

    Hello again, Ann …
    Good afternoon, George …

    What say you?

    • Formal application of punctuation with a salutation that doesn’t include an opening adjective (e.g., Dear Sir) would call for a comma preceding the person’s name as a proper form of address (e.g., Good afternoon, George). Whether to follow the name with a comma or a colon would be determined by the relationship’s context:

      Good afternoon, George, (comma for familiar)
      Good afternoon, George: (colon for formal)

      At the same time, you are correct in observing that current communication often omits the salutatory comma of address, particularly for shorter greetings (e.g., Hi Erik). This is becoming more common and acceptable, and it would be a matter of writer’s preference. You would be correct writing either Hi Erik or Hi, Erik.

      We would advise keeping the comma for longer or phrasal greetings such as Good afternoon, George.

  3. Nyerere C. Jones says:

    Should I write
    Good Morning Mary,
    Good morning Mary,

    • Regarding the capitalization of the word morning, please see our September 14, 2018, reply to Alexa. Also, our Rule 8 of Commas says, “Use commas to set off the name, nickname, term of endearment, or title of a person directly addressed.” Therefore, we would write: Good Morning, Mary. However, it is also acceptable to write Good morning, Mary. Good practice is to decide on a style and be consistent.

  4. LeAnn says:

    This website is such a wonderful find. I’d like to find more articles on email grammar/etiquette. For example, when addressing groups of people in a business setting (more than 3), should one write:
    1. Good Morning Team, or Good Morning, Team, or Good Morning, Team:.

  5. Elaine says:

    What about a salutation without a proper name? Example: “Dear Cousin,” OR Dear cousin,”” which is it?

    • says:

      In this context, if the wording is an opening salutation in a letter, we would treat the address as having an omitted, understood proper name: Dear Cousin [Pat, Janelle, etc.].

  6. Vashra says:

    My daughter wished to create “love letters” between two characters in a five chapter Victorian era fiction piece. She wanted them to sign the letters as follows:

    your Amanda

    your Captain

    Leaving aside that this would likely be considered downright *scandalous* for an unbetrothed couple to do at the time (that’s rather the point), should the “your” be capitalized or not?

    • says:

      There are no capitalization guidelines for signing a letter. It is a matter of style and preference.

  7. Regina Hudson says:

    In your April 28, 2018, reply to Erik, you did not capitalize “afternoon.” Is that an oversight?

    • says:

      Our preference is to treat as “Good Afternoon” if the greeting is not personalized and “Good afternoon” if it is personalized (Good afternoon, George…).

  8. Stephanie says:

    In the case of a formal salutation to an advisory committee do you capitalize the word ‘members’?

    “Dear Telehealth Advisory Committee Members:”
    “Dear Telehealth Advisory Committee members:”

  9. LR says:

    Which is correct?
    Dear Math students (and their parents,) or Dear Math Students (and their parents),

  10. Lynn says:

    Which is correct the correct salutation in an email?
    Hi Ladies,
    Hi ladies,

  11. Lola B says:

    What is the best option to open a letter in a non-informal setting. Is there a grammar difference between British and American English, or is it stylistic?

    Hey Lisa,

    Thank you for your letter.


    Hey Lisa,

    thank you for your letter.

    • says:

      “Non-informal” is formal. We do not recommend using “Hey” as a greeting in a formal setting. In additon, sentences should begin with a capital letter in both American and British English whether formal or informal.
      Hello Lisa,
      Thank you for your letter.

  12. Mychel says:

    When writing email to multiple recipients.

    Dear All,

    Or Dear all,

  13. Marshall Puumala says:

    Do you capitalize the g and b in good bye?

    • says:

      If you are using it as a sign-off or closing to a letter or emal, first-word capitalization would be used (Good bye or Goodbye); however, this would not be a standard closing unless someone was conveying some type of finality.

  14. OV says:

    I had learned that addressing parents in a school letter should be “Dear Parents” (if it’s directed to the whole class). Lately I have seen letters, emails or platforms use “Dear parents.” For me, “parents” is a common noun, but when addressed in a communication form then it substitutes all parents’ names and therefore it becomes a proper noun. No?

  15. Timothy says:

    Excellent article on Salutations and Closings. Thank you for addressing several of my questions regarding this subject.

  16. DJ says:

    When you’re writing an e-mail and using a “-” should the first word be capitalized? Ex: Hi Rick – Hope you’re well. OR should it be Hi Rick – hope you’re well.

    Also, how is it different if a comma is inserted instead of a “-” Ex: Hi Rick, Hope you’re well. OR should it be Hi Rick, hope you’re well.


    • says:

      We assume this is an informal email, so you don’t necessarily need to follow strict grammatical rules. We favor capitalizing the first word after the greeting whether you use a dash or comma. In addition, you might find our post Should You Use a Comma After Hello? helpful.

  17. Karen says:

    What is the correct capitalization and punctuation for the closing, “Yours in the Master’s will” in a religious letter? “Master’s” relates to Jesus or God.

    • says:

      The Chicago Manual of Style’s Rule 8.95 says,”Pronouns referring to God or Jesus are not capitalized unless a particular author or publisher prefers otherwise. (Note that they are lowercased in most English translations of the Bible.)” Therefore, we would write the following:
      Yours in the master’s will,
      Some authors argue that capitalizing all pronouns that refer to God shows reverence. If this is your belief, capitalizing is your choice.

  18. Jim says:

    I have a question about the use of sir or ma’am in email salutations, specifically in the military. Which would be the correct business email greeting:

    Good Morning, sir,
    Good Morning, ma’am,
    Good morning sir,
    Good Morning ma’am,
    Good Morning, Sir,
    Good Morning, Ma’am,
    Good morning, Sir,
    Good morning, ma’am,

    Thank you for clearing up any confusion.

    • says:

      We do not usually advise using such informal salutations as “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” in business communications unless there is a suitable familiarity between sender and sendee. If you do use “Good Morning,” we recommend using a colon or period at the end of a salutation in formal correspondence. A comma or exclamation point is acceptable for informal communication. We are not familiar with any rules specifically for military emails.
      Good morning, Sir:
      Good morning, Ma’am:

  19. Elisa Curlee says:

    Which is correct in a very personal salutation?
    My dear Rachel, or
    My Dear Rachel,

  20. Chris says:

    Is a word in a business text message after the salutation and comma capitalized or not?
    After “Hi Samuel,” is it “Your” or “your”?

    • says:

      If the word “your” is the first word in the body of your message after the salutation, it should be capitalized.

  21. Chris says:

    With all the “confusion” these days over the appropriate titles to use in salutations on correspondence (professional/business correspondence in this case), some clarification is needed. Your guidance above states: “The salutation Dear (Name) can be used as the writer sees appropriate in business correspondence. The name can be the recipient’s first name, full name, or last name preceded by Mr., Mrs., or Ms. If unsure of a recipient’s gender, include the full name and exclude the prefix.”

    Would you please reiterate that this is still the case and the correct guidance to follow today? Thank you!

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