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Dear Dr. vs Hi vs none in E-mail communication

What is the difference between "Dear Jane, " and "Hi Jane, " in the beginning of an email? My professor has always been writing "Hi Jane, ..." to me. Today I suddenly got a "Dear Jane, ..." email. I am getting self-conscious about this...

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A professor changed the letter heading like that? Worry. Start worrying now. –  SF. Nov 27 '12 at 9:07
    
Professors sometimes get addled & make typos & thinkos. Many of my clients (male & female; older & younger) address me as "Dear Bill", but I address everyone as "Hi, {Dr/Prof/[NAME]}". SF. may be right that you should worry about this professor, but don't start to worry unless the email content starts changing & becomes uncomfortable & too personal, or he starts calling your cellphone. IOW, it may mean nothing at all; only time will tell. Enjoy the mystery for the moment, but don't let your guard down. I used to address my stepmother as "Dear Mary", but it was just a formality & meant nothing. –  user21497 Nov 27 '12 at 9:18
    
"Dear" is a firmly-established, if not slightly antiquated, opening word for a letter. I wouldn't be concerned at all; I'd guess that, in a moment of inadvertence, the professor went "retro" – that's all. –  J.R. Nov 27 '12 at 9:19
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I hope a "Dear Jane" email isn't anything like a Dear John letter. –  Andrew Leach Nov 27 '12 at 9:55
    
@BillFranke: Not what I meant. "Dear X," is so firmly established and strictly neutral opening, as opposed to informal and hearty "Hi, X". The shift might signify a rapid cooling of a formerly warm relationship. –  SF. Nov 27 '12 at 11:45
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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, JSBձոգչ, MετάEd, Daniel, tchrist Nov 28 '12 at 1:36

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“Dear” has been the conventional greeting in letters for centuries, and does not in that context bear any implication of affection or intimacy. For instance, you might very well write:

Dear Cable Company:

I have told your service rep several times that I am moving. Would you please come collect your box and put it where the sun doesn't shine?

Sincerely, CherryQu

“Hi” has largely replaced “Dear” in emails, because it is markedly less formal; but those of whose experience stretches back to manuscript are somewhat uncomfortable with this, and apt to revert to “Dear”. Your professor is likely to have put down “Dear” without thought; if he is deliberately signalling anything, it is just as likely to be a greater degree of formality (for instance, if he is warning you about your grades, or inviting you to apply for a scholarship).

So I would not worry about this, unless it is accompanied by other changes in his behavior towards you.

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