To Whom It May Concern | Usage & Alternatives
To Whom It May Concern is a formal greeting that can be used to start an email or letter addressed to someone whose name you don’t know or to no one in particular. It’s still used, but it’s considered somewhat old-fashioned and impersonal. There are better options in most contexts.
Using this salutation can suggest to the recipient that you’re sending out a mass email to many different people or that you couldn’t be bothered to learn anything about the person to whom you’re writing.
Even if you don’t know the name of the person you’re writing to, it’s usually best to either find out or use a job title or department name to make your salutation more personal.
Alternatives to “To Whom It May Concern”
The best alternative to “To Whom It May Concern” is to write to a specific person where possible. If you know or can find out (e.g., online) the name of the person you’re addressing, then you should use it.
Use a title like “Ms.” or “Mr.” in combination with the person’s last name, or write out their full name. In a formal context, you usually shouldn’t address someone by their first name alone.
Obviously, you won’t always be able to find out the name of the person you’re writing to, and you may not be reaching out to a specific person at all.
It’s often still better to make your greeting a bit more specific by using a job title or department name, showing that you’re not just reaching out completely at random. Capitalize the title or department name.
When and how to use “To Whom It May Concern” correctly
There are some contexts in which “To Whom It May Concern” is the best choice. It’s legitimate to use this salutation when your letter or email is really addressed to a nonspecific group of people or to an entire organization. Some examples include:
- A formal complaint directed at a company in general
- A reference or recommendation letter for someone who will be applying to a variety of positions
- A letter of interest to be sent out to various organizations
When you do use “To Whom It May Concern,” make sure to write it correctly. It’s considered most formal to use a colon (rather than a comma) after this phrase. You should also make sure to capitalize every word and to get the phrasing right: use the object pronoun “whom,” not “who.”
- To whom it may concern,
- Dear Whoever it may Concern:
- To Who It May Concern:
- To Whom It May Concern:
“To Whom It May Concern” vs. “Dear Sir or Madam”
A salutation that’s often used interchangeably with “To Whom It May Concern” is “Dear Sir or Madam.” Both greetings are considered very impersonal, formal, and old-fashioned, but there is some difference in usage:
- To Whom It May Concern suggests that your letter or email is addressed to no one in particular. It might be a letter expected to be shown to various people without the expectation of a reply—for example, a letter of reference.
- Dear Sir or Madam suggests that you expect to be addressing a particular individual, but one whom you know little about.
We also advise against using “Dear Sir or Madam.” If you’re addressing no one in particular, “To Whom It May Concern” is the more correct choice, whereas if you’re addressing a specific person, it’s best to do so in a more personalized way, as described above.
Another reason to avoid “Dear Sir or Madam” is that some people may not wish to be addressed as either “Sir” or “Madam.”
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.
Frequently asked questions
- How do you start a professional email greeting?
You should start a professional email with a greeting and the name and title of the recipient (e.g., “Dear Mr. Walken”). Then, you should include an introductory line like I hope this email finds you well, followed by the body of the email.
For less formal emails, you can use a more casual introductory line like I hope you’re doing well.
- What is a synonym for “I hope this email finds you well”?
- What’s the difference between “Miss” and “Ms.”?
Miss is a title for an unmarried woman or girl, especially one under the age of about 30 (e.g., “Miss Jones”). It cannot be used for a married woman. It is sometimes seen as slightly old-fashioned, since it defines the woman by her marital status.
Ms. is a title for a woman whose marital status is unknown, for an older unmarried woman, or for any woman in a context where you don’t want to emphasize the woman’s marital status. It’s intended to be neutral, in that it can be used for married and unmarried women alike—much like “Mr.” can be used for married and unmarried men.
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