Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I just sent a formal business correspondence to a company via email. The letter starts with "To Whom It May Concern", but I rather clumsily used the wrong sign-off (Yours sincerely). How much of a breach in etiquette is this? Will it make my whole letter seem unprofessional? The company in question is based in the UK.

I would really appreciate some help!:)

share|improve this question

closed as off topic by tchrist, Mahnax, MετάEd, FumbleFingers, lindanaughton Sep 8 '12 at 4:28

Questions on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange are expected to relate to English language and usage within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

4  
FWIW, I've gone through several decades as a highly literate native speaker, and I have no idea what the "rules" are for matching salutations and sign-offs. This isn't to say that such rules don't exist, but the number of people who actually know them and adhere to them strictly is pretty small. –  JSBձոգչ Aug 30 '12 at 12:40
1  
Formal valediction is long dead as a social custom in English-speaking countries. Nobody genuinely cares about sincerely/faithfully any more: at most, someone might interpret it as evidence of whether you can be bothered to learn archaic and arbitrary rules like this. –  Gareth Rees Aug 30 '12 at 13:07
    
How is "Yours sincerely" wrong? Which set of rules are you referring to? –  Mitch Aug 30 '12 at 13:16
1  
@Mitch: there's a well-known convention whereby you use the valediction "Yours sincerely" when you know your correspondent (at least by name), and "Yours faithfully" when you do not, as in the OP's case. It's long dead as a genuine social custom, but survives as a rule in books of etiquette. –  Gareth Rees Aug 30 '12 at 13:46
1  

1 Answer 1

There are two schools of thought.

One says that you match your valediction to the salutation:
Dear Sir/Yours faithfully; Dear Mr X/Yours sincerely.

The other says that you match your sign-off to the content of the letter. In most cases, "Yours sincerely" will do fine, because you sincerely mean what you have written. In some cases, you may be expressing a wish or expectation that the recipient will do something, when "Yours faithfully" might be better.

There are circumstances where there is actually a prescribed form1 but those are very rare.

Without seeing the entire letter it's not really possible to say how professional it is. But in most cases I think people don't even notice and I expect you don't need to worry unduly.


1 If you start your letter with the formal salutation "My Lord Bishop", then it's expected that you end it "I have the honour to remain, Father, your humble and faithful servant". There are other similar formulae for letters which start "Your Grace", "Your Majesty" and the like. But in that sort of ultra-formal communication using the correct form of words is unlikely to be forgotten.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.