Dear Help Desk:  How to Begin a Business Letter

 Podcasts for Learners of English


The ESL Help Desk is glad that you have stopped by!  The ESL Help Desk is a unique podcast for learners of English because all of our examples and activities are based on authentic language, either written or spoken by others learners of English.  Our Library contains audio stories, grammar and communication lessons.  If you are taking an English as a Second Language class or are learning English on  your own, the ESL Help Desk has something for you!

Dear Help Desk:  How to Begin a Business Letter

Welcome to The ESL Help Desk. We're Interactive!  

English grammar; how to end a letterThe Help Desk invites listeners to share their questions about English with us. 

I have recently had a very interesting communication with a new listener and I would like to share our communication with you all in this podcast, the topic of which is "How to Begin a Business Letter."

Dear Help Desk,

I have been enjoying your podcasts and look forward to each one.  In your podcasts you have invited us to share our questions with you, and I would like to take advantage of your offer, if you don't mind.

I have written a letter in English only once or twice, but in the near future I want to send letters to foreign universities. I would like to study abroad after graduation, so I'd like to know how to write English letters politely.  I'm particularly interested in how to begin and end the letter.

Sometimes I send emails in English, and I usually end the email with "bye".  I know that "sincerely", "love" and "yours" are used to end letters but I don't know how to use these appropriately.



Dear Daisuke,

Thank you for sharing your question with the Help Desk.  Yours is an important question and I am sure that many others are wondering the same thing: How to appropriately begin and end a formal letter.  I hope my answer will help you as well as others with a similar need.

Be aware that the culture of email is very  much different from the culture of written correspondence.  There are some similarities, however, and what I write here can be used both in formal paper correspondence as well as formal email correspondence.

There are two parts of the ending of a letter, one is the "Complimentary Closing" and the other is the "signature", and you are primarily interested in the complimentary closing.

First of all,  "bye" is rarely used in written communication; it is mostly used in oral communication.  "Love" is definitely not appropriate for a formal letter. although I did receive an email recently from an associate in the United Kingdom that ended that way.  Perhaps that is acceptable in the UK but if this is the case, I would guess it would only be between people who knew each other for quite a while: Definitely not appropriate for a college application.

Cordially (yours)", "Respectfully (yours)", "(With) best regards" and "(With) kindest regards". The closing that is used will depend on the contents and formality of the letter, the writer's familiarity with the recipient, and the recipient's level of authority. "Yours truly" and "Very truly yours" are often considered more affectionate and omitted from modern Business Letter style guides [3], but you will find them listed in older style manuals [4], and are often taught to non-native writers as a catch-all phrase, for use when the writer is uncertain how to close the letter. Still, most attorneys close legal correspondence with "Very truly yours."

In UK English, a closing is followed by a comma ("Yours sincerely,") only if the salutation was followed by a comma. That is, if a comma is omitted from the salutation, the letter should be considered written in 'open punctuation', and the comma should therefore be omitted from the closing also ("Yours sincerely").

In the UK, the use of the closing "Yours sincerely," is generally reserved for a recipient whose name is known, substituting "Yours faithfully," where it is not known.



Dear Jane,
Thank you for adopting my question on your podcast!  It will be a wonderful help for me and surely for many other learners of English.

To answer your question, I'd like to know how to write postal letters in English.  Do you have any rules for how to begin and end formal letters?

If letters sent by email should be addressed and signed differently, I'd like to know that as well.



Dear Daisuke,

In this particular letter to you, I hope to respond to your first question: the greeting.

Regarding this question, whether it is an email or a "snail mail" letter, the letter begins with what we call the "greeting" or "salutation". The greeting should begin "Dear (person's name)".  It is preferable to use the person's last name, for example, "Dear President Bush" or "Dear Mrs. Bush", rather than "Dear George" or "Dear Laura".  If you do not know the person's name, begin the letter "To Whom It May Concern".

At this point, you have begun the "body" of the letter.  For your first paragraph, if you have had prior contact with the individual you are writing to, it is appropriate to compliment the person in some way, perhaps by writing "I enjoyed our telephone conversation last week" or "Thank you for your wonderful podcast", as you have done to me, and which I greatly appreciate. If you have never met or spoken to the individual, your opening should be appropriate to the situation.  For example, you could begin "I have heard so many good things about Boston University".

In a formal business letter, we do not generally comment on the weather, the seasons or any other aspects of nature, or ones family.

I hope that I have answered your first question: How to begin a letter.  Next week I hope to answer your second question: How to end a formal letter.  

ESL Help Desk


And this from one reader: 

I was very excited as I listened it!! It was funny that the sender's name is Daisuke(Japanese name!). Did you take it from Daisuke Matsuzaka(Red Socks)?

Our answer:  I had to keep the origial corresponder's name confidential; yes, being a Boston Red Sox fan, I took this person's name from Daisuke Matsuzaka!

I hope you enjoy today's podcast and lesson.

We'd now like to thank you for listening in to this week's ESL Help Desk podcast!  Stay tuned as we continue this lesson on how to begin and end a formal business letter.  All the best! 

So from the ESL Help Desk, thanks for listening to us this week, and remember to email us your questions about English grammar by sending us a comment through our blog.


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