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When should one sign a letter with "Yours faithfully" or "Yours sincerely"?

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up vote 45 down vote accepted

This is called "complimentary close".

As reported by Oxford Handbook of Commercial Correspondence:

  • If the letter begins with Dear Sir, Dear Sirs, Dear Madam, or Dear Sir/Madam, the COMPLIMENTARY CLOSE should be "Yours faithfully".

  • If the letter begins with a personal name, e.g. Dear Mr James, Dear Mrs Robinson, or Dear Ms Jasmin, it should be "Yours sincerely".

  • A letter to someone you know well may close with the more informal "Best wishes".

Note that the Americans tend to close even formal letters with Yours truly or Truly yours, which is unusual in the UK in commercial correspondence.

Avoid closing old-fashioned phrases, e.g. We remain yours faithfully, Respectfully yours.

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<rhetorical>I suppose, then, that Yr. obt. svt. is right out of the question?</rhetorical> – bye Feb 22 '11 at 14:10
I use the following mnemonic. Since the word 'Faith' can be a name, simply ensure that your salutation and closing contain one name. I acknowledge that this ignores more informal letters, but it helps me remember when to use sincerely and when to use faithfully – Dancrumb Feb 23 '11 at 0:57

I've been taught the following distinction:

  • Use "Yours sincerely" when you know the person you are addressing, i.e. Mr. Smith.
  • Use "Yours faithfully" when you are starting your letter with Dear Sir/Madam, or a similar construction.

That being said, it has been my experience that these are used less and less, especially in electronic communications. I would still prefer them in dead-tree letters, but only in the most formal of circumstances (probably when invited to a cup of tea by the Queen of England...).

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Yes, in a printed letter that's a common convention in the UK. However, as you say, other formulae such as just "Sincerely", "Best wishes" or even just "Best" are common especially in more informal business correspondence or e-mail. – Neil Coffey Feb 21 '11 at 17:39
It is as @Manoochehr says if you begin with a personal name not if you know them. – Mark Feb 21 '11 at 21:14

I usually just write "Sincerely,". I understand it to be a contraction of "I am yours sincerely" or "I am yours faithfully". If I used it, I'd probably invert it to "Sincerely yours," or "Faithfully yours,". These statements are typically reserved for love letters or other personal correspondence, although faithful could technically describe a business relationship.

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edited my original question, I had wrongly said 'Your faithfully'... – Julius A Feb 21 '11 at 16:56


The Raven

The modern era does not routinely recognize the "complimentary close" as such, and its use is becoming rather quaint.

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Best what? Best regards? Best wishes? All the best? Best of luck? Best friends for life? – A-B-B Jul 14 '15 at 14:13
Sure it's a modern era, but is "Best," what you'd use for a formal letter (like resignation letter etc)? – Pacerier Nov 3 '15 at 3:01

I just use "Thank you" - it seems to fit everywhere and doesn't sound like the letter was auto-generated by some letter writing wizard.

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Since Julius didn't specifically ask for a «commercially» correct way of signing a letter, less informal alternatives to what others have posted include:

  • Best wishes
  • Kind regards
  • Yours (truly)
  • With love
  • All the best
  • Best of luck
  • Thank You
  • Sincerely/Faithfully
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