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How to Start an Email: 6 Never-Fail Introductions and 6 to Avoid

We’ve talked about the best ways to end an email; now let’s talk about beginnings.

You might wonder whether it’s really necessary to put much thought into how you begin your emails and other correspondence. If you’ve ever ignored a letter because it began with “To Whom It May Concern,” groaned because your name was misspelled, or wondered if the sender was human or canine because their greeting was so overly enthusiastic, then you know that getting your email salutation right is a big deal. In job search emails, for example, using the wrong greeting could make you seem less competent and even cost you an interview.

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Here are the six best ways to begin an email, followed by six you should avoid at all costs.

The Six Best Ways to Start an Email

1 Hi [Name],

In all but the most formal settings, this email greeting is the clear winner. It’s simple, friendly, and direct. If you want a slightly more formal tone, consider replacing hi with hello.

Here’s a tip: Should you put a comma after “Hi”? Well, technically, yes . . . but nobody does. When a salutation starts with a direct address like “Hi” or “Hello,” some sticklers say you should follow it with a comma, and also put a comma after the name of the person you’re addressing. But, since leaving the comma out has become standard practice, it’s okay to let it go.

2 Dear [Name],

Although dear can come across as stuffy, it’s appropriate for formal emails. Use it when you’re addressing a person in a position of respect (e.g., Dear Lieutenant Smith) and in formal business missives such as a résumé cover letter.

Here’s a tip: In cover letters, use “Dear” followed by an honorific and the person’s last name (if known) and a colon:

Dear Ms. Roberts:

If the recipient’s gender is unknown, or their name is the least bit ambiguous, use a full name instead:

Dear Terry Jones:

Avoid honorifics that imply marital status such as “Mrs.” Use “Ms.” instead.

3 Greetings,

There are a couple of useful alternatives when you don’t know your recipient’s name or you’re writing to a general email inbox, such as feedback@[company].com. Greetings is one of them. But we also like . . .

4 Hi there,

The advantage of Hi there is that it works well if you’re sending a mass email or using a mail merge feature with customized name fields. You can set up your fields like this:

Hi [Name],

That way, when you use “there” in the [Name] field, your recipient will see a non-specific greeting: “Hi there.”

Here’s a tip: Be careful with mail merges and mass emails. Using first names only is usually your best bet. People are likely to identify emails with greetings like “Hi Alexa J. Roth” as spam.

5 Hello, or Hello [Name],

This one bridges the gap between the breezy hi and the more formal dear. It’s used less often, though, so be aware that it might stand out, and don’t use it if you want your greeting to be unobtrusive.

6 Hi everyone,

If you’re addressing a group of people, this is the way to go. We prefer it to more abrupt greetings like “All,” or the too gender-specific “Gentlemen” or “Ladies.”

The Six Worst Ways to Start an Email

1 [Misspelled Name],

Don’t misspell your recipient’s name. Ever.

Double-check the spelling of the person’s name and either get it right or omit it and use a generic greeting like Hi there. Although a nonspecific greeting may come off as impersonal, a misspelled name is a red flag that says you’re careless.

2 Dear Sir or Madam,

Have you ever read and responded to a letter that greeted you with Dear Sir or Madam? We’re going to go ahead and guess you haven’t. Not only is this salutation stiff and formal, it shows that you couldn’t be bothered to look up a contact name and address someone specific.

3 To Whom It May Concern,

The same sentiments that apply to Dear Sir or Madam apply here. If your letter opens with To Whom It May Concern, we’re probably going to assume it doesn’t concern us.

Here’s a tip: Don’t use this greeting with job application cover letters. Make a point to find the hiring manager’s name, even if that means calling the company and asking. If you can’t find a name, “Dear Hiring Manager:” or “Dear [Company] Team:” will work.

4 Hey! or Hey, [Name]!

Reserve this one for your friends and close colleagues. Otherwise, hey is glaringly informal and can even come across as disrespectful. Have you ever felt warmly greeted by someone saying, “Hey, you!”?

5 Happy Friday!!! Or Welcome to Monday!

If you’re a golden retriever, you might be able to get away with a greeting this exuberant. Otherwise, you’ll come across as trying too hard. Forget the cutesy greetings, or at least save them for the most informal correspondence between you and your close friends.

6 Hi [Nickname],

If you’ve done your research and discovered that your recipient’s name is Michael McTavish, don’t assume familiarity and shorten his name to Mike. However, if he signs his reply with Mike, it’s okay to address him that way in the future. In fact, he might find it a bit peculiar if you decide to stick with the more formal moniker.

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