Wondering about the Dear Sir or Madam salutation?
Are you wondering if using this salutation in a letter or email is still appropriate?
What are the alternatives?
In this article, we will break down the phrase “Dear Sir or Madam” so you know all there is to know about it.
I will first tell you what it is, when it is used, how it is punctuated, how it can be used in cover letters or emails, and even compare it to the phrase “to whom it may concern”.
This article is updated in 2022 so you get the latest and best!
Are you ready to learn?
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Table of Contents
What Does “Dear Sir or Madam” Mean
Dear Sir or Madam is a formal salutation used in a letter addressed to a specific person whose name, title, and gender are unknown to you.
Every letter, email, or communication should start with a salutation if it is addressed to someone.
Ideally, you should address your communication to a specific person by using their name or title.
If you tried to look for the person’s name or title and you still came up short, that’s when you should consider using the generic Dear Sir/Madam salutation.
Punctuation of Dear Sir or Madam
If you are going to use the Dear Sir or Madam salutation in your letter, make sure you write it properly and use the proper punctuation.
One way to write it is to write it using a common (Dear Sir or Madam,…):
Another way to write it is to use a colon (Dear Sir or Madam:…):
Variations of Dear Sir or Madam
There are many ways people can refer to the phrase “Dear Sir or Madam”, such as:
- Dear Sir or Madam
- Dear Madam or Sir
- Dear Sirs and Madams
- Dear Madams and Sirs
- Dear Sirs
- Dear Sir
- Dear Madam/Sir
- Dear Sir/Madam
- Sir or Madam
These are all variations of the same thing.
When to use Dear Sir or Madam?
Even though you can use the salutation Dear Sir or Madam, you should be mindful of when you use it.
When you write “Dear Sir or Madam”, it implies that you do not know to whom you are writing your salutation although you are intending to write to someone specific.
As such, you’re making a salutation that can apply to anyone who receives your letter, email, or memo.
For example, a letter addressed to the board of directors of a company should be addressed to the men and women composing the board of directors but you may not know their names.
As such, you may use the “Dear Sir or Madam” salutation to write a letter to the board.
In today’s business environment, most often, you know pretty well to whom you are addressing your email or letter.
As a result, using Dear Sirs or Dear Madam or Sir may not be appropriate.
When the recipient is an individual
When the recipient of your letter or email is an individual, it’s standard practice to use a salutation.
The salutation to an individual can even convey the nature of your relationship with that person as well.
For example, if you are writing a letter to Hilary Roberts, you can write your salutations as:
“Dear Ms. Roberts”
Saying “Dear Ms. Roberts” shows a higher level of formality whereas “Dear Hilary” shows that the author of the letter and the recipient already know one another.
When the recipient is an entity
If the recipient of your letter is an entity, then you should use a salutation as you would with an individual.
When addressing a company or a legal entity, the salutation will be something like:
- Dear Sirs
- Dear Sirs or Madams
- Dear Sirs or Mesdames
- Ladies and Gentlemen
If you use the salutation to whom it may concern, you’re indicating that you don’t know who is your recipient.
The best practice is to avoid using gender-specific salutations.
How to use Dear Sir/Madam the right way?
If you are going to use the phrase Dear Sir/Madam or Dear Sir or Madam, you must make sure that you use it the right way.
If you use Dear Sir, Dear Madam, Dear Madam or Sir or Dear Sir or Madam, you should finish your letter using the phrase “Yours Faithfully”.
Here is an example:
Dear Sir or Madam in emails
Should you use Dear Madam or Sir in your emails?
As a general rule, you should avoid using Dear Madam or Sir in your emails.
Emails should be written in a less formal tone than cover letters making it more relevant to avoid using phrases like Dear Sir or Madam or Dear Madam/Sir.
Can you imagine an email sent to you with a Dear Sir or better yet, Dear Sir or Madam?
That will be out of place and not appropriate.
In most cases, if you are sending an email to a person, you should use the person’s name.
Quite often, by looking at a person’s email address, their name will be evident.
Other times, you may be emailing a generic email address and that’s when it may be a better practice to research and find out to whom you are looking to address your email so you make direct salutations to that person.
For example, in some cases, you’ll need to send an email to a department for general support, that’s when it would make more sense to use the Dear Sir or Dear Madam, although you may want to use the To Whom It May Concern phrase instead if you don’t know who you are sending the email to.
Dear Sir or Madam in cover letters
Should you use Dear Madam/Sir in your cover letters?
Even though a cover letter should be written in a formal way, that does not mean you should use a gender-neutral Dear Sir Madam type of salutation.
As much as possible, you should address your cover letter directly to the intended recipient.
You are not going to go to jail for using the Dear Sir or Madam salutation on your cover letter, but you should do everything possible to avoid using it.
Look at it from the recipient’s perspective.
If you send a letter to someone in a company using the Dear Sir or Dear Madam salutation, the person receiving your letter will probably think:
- You’re using a generic letter that you’ve probably sent to 100 other people
- You did not take the time to even bother looking up the person’s name although you could have looked up the person’s name on social media, online, or by doing a bit of research
- Your letter will not be compelling as it is impersonal
For these reasons, if you are writing a letter, cover letter, memo, communication, or addressing a document to someone, take a bit of time to at least find the person’s name or title.
Dear Sir or Madam alternatives
Instead of using ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, ‘Dear Sir’, ‘Dear Madam’, or any variations thereof, let’s look at a few alternatives you can use to better personalize your communication.
As the first rule, you should address your communication directly to a person by writing your salutations as follows:
“Dear Mr. Smith”
“Dear Ms. Doe”
If you don’t have the person’s last name, try going for the person’s title, such as:
“Dear Mr. President”
“Dear HR Manager”
“Dear General Counsel”
If you don’t have the name or title, you should then consider the following as your last option:
“Dear Sir or Madam”
Dear Sir or Madam vs To Whom It May Concern
What is the difference between Dear Sir or Madam and To Whom It May Concern?
Do they mean the same thing?
The short answer is no.
“Dear Sir/Madam” does not mean the same thing as “To Whom It May Concern” and should not be used interchangeably.
When you use Dear Sir or Dear Madam, you are intending to write to a specific person or a specific person in a particular role.
The only reason why you are using Dear Sir or Madam is that you do not know the person’s name or title.
On the other hand, when you use the phrase “To Whom It May Concern”, you are addressing your salutation to anyone who can respond to your letter.
You do not have a particular person in mind when you write To Whom It May Concern.
Dear Sir or Madam FAQ’s
Is Dear Sir or Madam appropriate for cover letter?
If you are in a hurry to send a cover letter and you really don’t have time to find out to whom you are writing your cover letter, as your last option, you may want to use Dear Sir/Madam salutation.
However, if you want to improve your cover letter and write something much better, you should look up the name of the person to whom you are addressing your letter so you can avoid referring to the gender-neutral Dear Sir/Madam.
How to address a letter not using ‘Dear Sir or Madam‘?
The best way to write a letter is to avoid using ‘Dear Sir’, ‘Dear Madam’ or ‘Dear Sir or Madam’.
If you are wondering how to address a letter by not using “Dear Sir or Madam”, you’re on the right track.
Here is how you should address your letter:
- Use the person’s last name if you want to be formal (for example “Dear Mr. Branson”)
- Use the person’s first name if you already know the person and the context of the letter is appropriate (for example “Dear Hilary”)
- Use the title of the person if you don’t know the person’s name (for example “Dear Sales Department Manager”)
If you are really unable to find the person’s name or title, then you should consider using Dear Sir or Madam.
Should you use “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern”
This question comes up quite often.
Should you use the Dear Sir or Madam salutation or To Whom It May Concern salutation?
Here is a quick rule of thumb for you to remember.
Both these salutations are used when you are writing to someone that you do not know.
However, you’ll use “Dear Sir or Madam” if you are addressing your Dear Sir/Madam letter to a specific person whereas you’ll use “To Whom It May Concern” if you are addressing your letter to nobody in particular.
For example, if you are looking to write a letter to someone in an organization but you are unable to find the person’s name or title, you’ll use the “Dear Sir or Madam” salutation.
For example, you are writing to an IT department for support services and you don’t know who should be handling your request, you’ll use the To Whom It May Concern salutation.
Why should you avoid using Dear Sir or Madam?
Many people do not appreciate seeing “Dear Sir or Madam” when they get a letter or email.
For many, there is no excuse for not taking the time and find the name or title of the person to whom you are writing a letter or email so you can make a more personalized salutation.
Your good old Dear Ma’am letter or your Dear Sir or Madam email will give the following impression to people:
- You are too lazy to find out the person’s name or title
- You don’t care much about the recipient of your letter for not even bothering to find out their name
- You are old-school for using outdated salutations
- You risk offending women who do not consider themselves as ‘madams’