Dear Sir or Madam: When to use it and alternatives

Etiquette norms constantly go through some changes, and the business letter writing standards do the same. Yes, understanding them is tough (mainly, this writing style is not used anymore), but we should do it anyway. You’ll wonder why, and we’ll answer – knowing how to write formal letters will help you impress your possible boss when making a transmittal letter to your summary. And one of the most important elements here is the salutation. Depending on what greeting you choose, the reader will decide –whether consider your letter for reading or not. 

So, in our article, we will discuss the cases when to use “Dear Sir or Madam” salutation, plus other variants you can use instead of it. 

 First of all, the reason behind this topic is the way people address each other now. If not using any greeting at all sounds non-formal, then writing Dear Sir or Madam is a double mistake. While this title is the proper way to address a person, but it can also make your correspondent feel uneasy or irritated – well, no one wants that. In order not to be misunderstood here, we’ll explain right away what we mean by “ill at ease” feeling:

  • being unfamiliar with the recipient and not knowing the gender;
  • if it’s a business letter, but you don’t know your correspondent personally;
  • you want to get rid of such salutation cause it sounds dated (it really does);
  • Dear Sir or Madam makes your correspondent think that they are being spoken to in a condescending manner.

So, if you see that the reason for using “Dear Sir or Madam” is one of these (and maybe some other) things, then we advise you to let go of it and use an alternative instead. Because we think that formal letters should not sound rude or impolite. And the “Dear Sir or Madam” salutation can sound rude, depending on the context it is used in.

“Dear Madam or Sir” – is this greeting relevant to use in the cover letter?

Yes, you can still use this greeting form, but you need to be careful. It’s an old-fashioned salutation, plus it sounds a little bit boring. So, if your reader does not comply with binary genders, he can take offense. It’s not an excellent way to impress the potential boss, is it? 

Besides, you can be slothful in the reader’s eyes when using this salutation. Today, many organizations do not keep private their contact information. That’s why we recommend you look for the recruiter’s name and refer to it. But if you fail to find it, you need to look for the department’s or post’s title. Moreover, using the “Dear Madam or Sir” greeting can make the reader think that it is the same letter from you the other organizations also receive, and you do not honestly care about it. 

 If you are sure that you know your recipient and can miss these traps, you can apply this greeting when not having enough info. But in general, we do not recommend using this salutation.

Can I apply the “Dear Madam or Sir” salutation when writing an unofficial letter? 

In no case can you do it since this salutation is too official. If possible, we suggest you try to use the organization’s e-mail to create a more individualized greeting. For instance, if the organization’s e-mail is [email protected], you can start the letter with such a salutation as “Dear YouTube Party team”. Depending on the job you want to get, you can make your greeting just brief and simple, saying only “Hi!”. 

Compared to e-mail, the cover letter is more official, and here you can apply the “Dear Sir or Madam” greeting. But again, you should use it carefully. If you the receiver to read your letter, we advise you to apply the other salutation variants. And now we’ll discuss them.

So, if you know the receiver’s name, it’s better to use it in your greeting. If you do not know it, we advise searching for it on the organization’s website or social media accounts. Also, you can make a call to the organization and ask to whom you need to send a letter. This way, you will show that you make all efforts to build the relations and get the job. 

If you still fail to know the receiver’s name, we suggest using the following variants:

  • Dear + the post’s name
  • Dear Recruiter
  • Dear HR manager
  • Dear + department’s title
  • Dear + possible boss’ title
  • Dear + department title manager

Compared to transmittal letters, e-mails are not so official. So, here, you can use such greeting variants as:

  • Hello + organization’s or department’s title
  • Hi
  • Good morning or afternoon

We should warn use: when deciding whether to use “Hello” instead of “Dear,” you need to think about it as the first is less official carefully. We advise you to apply “Dear” since this way you’ll demonstrate your respect to the organization, plus your professionalism.

What are the differences between “Dear Madam or Sir” and “To Whom It May Concern” greetings?

At first sight, these two greeting forms are fungible, but they differ a little bit.

If you know, you’re addressing a person or small people’s company, but you have failed to know their names or gender, we advise you to use the “Dear Madam or Sir” greeting. It’s the best variant to use in your transmittal letter since you surely know that you refer to the particular manager or team.

But if your letter refers to big amount of people, or you don’t have any idea of who will receive your letter, in this case, it’s better to use the “To Whom It May Concern”. It’s applicable to apply it when you ask overall questions or want to know something rather than get the job. 

Like with the “Dear Madam or Sir” greeting, you should do all your best to find your possible receiver’s name. But if you fail to do it, using the “To Whom It May Concern” greeting is the best way to refer to the organization. 

Some rules of applying the “Dear Madam or Sir” 

It doesn’t matter the salutation form you decide to apply for; your letter must be professional, catchy, and amiable. 

That is why you should establish relations with the company from the first words. You need to show that you’ve done the research and know info about the organization and the job you want to get, plus you need to give a good reason why they should hire you.

 As we have said, your letter should be occupational, and that’s why you need to use the correct punctuation and grammar. If you doubt something, you can ask someone to check your letter. 

 The proper grammar starts from the beginning – your greeting. So, there are some punctuation rules about the greeting you need to follow:

  • Every element (except for “or”) starts with a capitalized letter
  • After salutation, you should apply colon or comma
  • Make an additional space between salutation and your first line

These rules are the same for the “To Whom It May Concern” greeting, except for wiring every element in the capitalized letter, plus after it, you need to apply a colon.  The comma and the one-line space should be applied after you greet.

You need to focus on checking your letter’s mistakes, not only grammar but punctuation as well. If your greeting is fluent and catchy, even if they're some mistakes in it, this will become a good reason to get hired. It shows that you don’t have bad writing skills, so they should read your letter to the end. But if your greeting is incorrect or boring, even if your letter is catchy and smart it will not impress anyone. So, you need to do your best to check all punctuation elements in the greeting.

  • The most common mistakes related to salutation are using wrong punctuation (like comma after “Dear”); capitalizing every element; applying non-proper punctuation (ex: starting or ending the letter with a comma).
  • There are also some common mistakes related to grammar (ex: spelling, punctuation).
  • Some people make the same mistakes as a salutation; they use “Dear” at the end of the greeting. So, you need to be careful and check if it’s correct or not. If you have any doubts, ask someone professional to have a look at your letter.
  • If you don’t know how to fix your mistakes, ask someone. Don’t let your letter be incorrect or boring; check your punctuation elements carefully and make it good.


"Dear Madam or Sir," and "To Whom It May Concern," are the two best ways to open a cover letter. They show you did your research about the company and understand their needs, which is what hiring managers want to see.

If you get someone's name, address it to them personally. But if you get no answer, go with "To Whom It May Concern." The best way to fix a cover letter is to ask someone who knows or check online.


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