Dear Sir or Madam | Alternatives & When to Use

Dear Sir or Madam is a standard salutation used to start an email or letter to a person whose identity you’re not sure of. Though it’s a traditional phrasing, it’s recommended to avoid it if possible since it’s very impersonal and quite old-fashioned.

It’s always best to address the person directly by name if you can find out this information. If not, other options include using the name of the group or department, the person’s job title, or, if you’re not addressing one specific person, “To Whom It May Concern.”

Examples: Dear Sir or Madam alternatives
Dear Ms. Johnson, …

Dear Department of Communications, …

Dear Hiring Manager, …

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Alternatives to Dear Sir or Madam

The best alternative to “Dear Sir or Madam” is always to address the specific person you’re writing to by name. You can either use their full name or a title like “Ms.” or “Mr.” followed by their last name. In more informal contexts, you might just use their first name.

Examples: Using the person’s name
Dear Antonio Valenti, …

Dear Dr. Fontana, …

Hi, Suzanne, …

Try your best to find out the name of the person you’re writing to, but, of course, there will be situations where you just don’t know. In these cases, other information can stand in to make your salutation more specific: the name of the department you’re writing to or the job title of the person in question.

Examples: Using a title or organizational name
Dear Department of Finance, …

Dear Editorial Board, …

Dear Head of Quality Assurance, …

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Dear Sir or Madam vs. To Whom It May Concern

If you really can’t find an appropriate way to address the person or department involved specifically, you’ll have to decide on a phrase you can use as a generic salutation:

  • Dear Sir or Madam is used when you intend your email or letter to reach a specific person, but you don’t know their name or gender.
  • To Whom It May Concern is used when you’re reaching out to an organization in a more general way and don’t know who specifically will deal with your query.
Example: To Whom It May Concern
You have a complaint about a company but can only find one email address for them and know nothing about their organizational structure. You write a message to that address beginning with To Whom It May Concern.

Why should you try to avoid Dear Sir or Madam?

There are a few reasons why we (and others) advise avoiding Dear Sir or Madam whenever possible. Using this salutation:

  • Shows the person you’re writing to that you don’t know who they are and, since this information is usually easy to find online, suggests you aren’t interested
  • Implies that this might be a mass email sent to many different people
  • Isn’t fully gender-inclusive, since some people don’t identify with either “Sir” or “Madam”

How to use Dear Sir or Madam correctly

If you do end up using Dear Sir or Madam, make sure you write it correctly. “Sir” and “Madam” should be capitalized, because they are being used as proper nouns to address the person you’re writing to.

Like other salutations, this one should be followed by a comma or a colon, a blank line, and then the body of your email message or letter. It’s also better to write out “Sir or Madam” than to combine them with a slash as “Sir/Madam.”

Traditionally, a letter or email message that starts with Dear Sir or Madam should end with “Yours faithfully,” followed by your name. If you do use this salutation, it’s best to end your message in that way.

Example: Dear Sir or Madam
Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to inquire about …

Yours faithfully,

Jack Caulfield

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Other interesting language articles

If you want to know more about commonly confused words, definitions, and differences between US and UK spellings, make sure to check out some of our other language articles with explanations, examples, and quizzes.

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Caulfield, J. (2023, June 26). Dear Sir or Madam | Alternatives & When to Use. Scribbr. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/effective-communication/dear-sir-or-madam/

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes for Scribbr about his specialist topics: grammar, linguistics, citations, and plagiarism. In his spare time, he reads a lot of books.