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When writing a formal letter addressed to someone whose gender is unknown, how important is it to use "Dear Sir or Madam", instead of "Dear Sir"?

I was taught that "Dear Sir" is an acceptable gender-neutral salutation but times may have changed, is this right or wrong?

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marked as duplicate by TrevorD, MετάEd, tchrist, Kristina Lopez, Hellion Sep 6 '13 at 14:46

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Dear Sir isn't correct if you do not know someone's gender. Also there's good advice here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/43608/… –  dcaswell Sep 5 '13 at 0:51
    
This question probably belongs on English Language Learners because it is about communication in everyday English, and is not about the academic study of English Language. –  Matt Sep 5 '13 at 5:24
    
    
Thanks for the links to related questions, but my specific question was whether "Dear Sir" was an acceptable gender-neutral formal salutation. I don't see that specific question being addressed in the related questions. –  congusbongus Sep 5 '13 at 12:28
    
From a common sense standpoint, I can say that if I received a letter addressed "Dear Sir", as a woman, I'd probably not think very highly of the sender. Why risk showing an unknown recipient that you "assume" the recipient of your letter should be a man? That's not really very PC in this day and age. (FWIW) –  Kristina Lopez Sep 6 '13 at 12:38
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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Dear Sir may have been an acceptable gender-neutral salutation some time ago, but I would suggest 'To whom it may concern,' as a more modern and suitable alternative :)

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When the addressee is in the same field as the writer, you can use the address Dear Colleague.

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I like that; hadn't thought of it before. –  Pieter Geerkens Sep 5 '13 at 2:27
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Don't you find that it always rains when you try to write a letter in a field? –  Edwin Ashworth Sep 5 '13 at 7:17
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@EdwinAshworth No, because I am not a man out standing in his field. –  bib Sep 5 '13 at 12:23
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The proper way to begin a formal letter to someone whose gender is unknown is with the "Dear Sir/Madam," phrase while At the end the letter use the phrase "Yours faithfully," plus your full name, like the template that follows:

Dear Sir/Madam,

....

Yours faithfully, Your full name

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Might offend someone going through a sex change. –  RyeɃreḁd Sep 5 '13 at 21:19
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