I am writing a cover letter in English to The Netherlands. I don't know whether to use English when writing the address or Dutch (in the letter, not on the envelope). All the terms are translatable to English (department code, attention, mailbox, etc.). Using English or Dutch seem both out of order. I was thinking to use English for the terms, such as department code and attention, but Dutch for the actual address (mailbox/postbus).

What is common when sending a letter abroad in English writing?

  • Stick to one language. Use whatever the body of the letter will be. – curiousdannii Sep 29 '14 at 11:45
  • Actual parts of the address should never be translated. Headings for the address parts can be translated. On the envelope you just copy the exact address as given by the addressee (the person delivering the mail will be local!) – oerkelens Sep 29 '14 at 12:43
  • I live in Holland. If I write English to someone in Holland, I will likely continue to do so. All mails addressed to me in The Hague has arrived as promptly as mail to me in Haag, La Haye, Den Haag and 's-Gravenhage. that said, do not translate Burgermeester Bürenweg to Mayor Bueren Road – mplungjan Sep 29 '14 at 12:48
  • If a letter arrived in the U.S. addressed "57 rue de la montagne", how would we know whether it was intended for Mountain Street or Mountain Road? (I expect it wouldn't get to either.) If you're writing to Montréal, that's a different matter. – Peter Shor Sep 29 '14 at 18:30
  • Question about culture/social interaction. – dwjohnston Oct 4 '14 at 6:46

I would put the inside address in Dutch, just as it will be on the outside of the envelope. I don't find it particularly odd:

Dhr. R. H. van Rijn
Jodenbreestraat 4
1011 NK Amsterdam

Dear Mr. van Rijn,

I think I'd leave words like "afdeling" and "postbus" as they are, but if you translate them to "department" or "box," I doubt anyone would notice. If they did, I doubt they'd care.

I once sat next to an older Dutch couple on a flight to the US. They asked me for help with their landing cards. We spoke the entire time in English, and they read the English instructions, etc., which specify that the cards are to be filled out in English. They put their country of citizenship as "Nederland" without even realizing it.

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  • I did stick to Dutch, but translated department. I know Dutch people speak English very well, as I'm Dutch myself. But when writing letters in English, it needs to be consistent, so I use English writing rules for the address rather than the Dutch rules, if that makes sense. – moi Sep 30 '14 at 11:01
  • @moi interesting! And here I am, a native speaker of English who lived in the Netherlands for 6 years, basing my answer on how I thought the address would be perceived by Dutch people. Perhaps I should have discussed how such an address would be perceived by English-speaking people. But that's dangerous, too: Many Dutch people have an incorrect idea of what is correct English, so if the recipient were Dutch, it might have mattered more what the recipient thought was correct than what actually was correct. – phoog Feb 17 '15 at 8:45
  • When writing to friends overseas from the US, I write the address on the envelope in English using Roman letters even if the country I'm sending it to uses, e.g., the Cyrillic or Greek alphabet. In the US (and Britain) one puts the recipient's name on the first line, the house + street name (or PO Box xxxx) on the second, and the city, state, and zipcode/post code on the third. On the Continent, though, the postcode generally precedes the city name. The name of the country would be on the fourth line. – tautophile May 28 '18 at 23:49

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