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I think that most people will answer the question in the title with 'yes', and, until recently, I was one of them. However, my wife, who is not a native English speaker, does not do this; and, when I was about to correct her, it occurred to me that in fact her approach is the more logical. After all, if it were all on one line, I would write "Dear recipient, this is a letter to you." and not "Dear recipient, This is a letter to you."; and I am unconvinced that the interpolation of a line break after the comma should change anything.

There being no governing body for English, inevitably the natural way to answer is "that's the way it's usually done, and logic can go hang", so let me ask a more precise version of this question: does any standard reference book require, forbid, or otherwise discuss this practice? I went Googling, but without luck.

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    I don't know but there is a similar convention in writing poetry. Lines start with a capital regardless of the prior punctuation. e.g. poetryfoundation.org/poem/174790 – chasly from UK Oct 14 '15 at 22:53
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    Sorry, I don't have a standard reference, but I do have another point of view on it that might help. While I can't say I recall seeing what you describe in print, I have seen a similar practice at the closing of an old fashioned latter, along the lines of: "Yours truly, / and remaining your humble servant, / X". Here it is clearly a continuation of the sentence as in poetry. At the salutation, however, you have a possibly different structure. "Dear Sir" is not really taken as a true vocative, but rather a stand-alone formula. Hence the colon frequently used "Dear X:". – Albatrosspro Oct 14 '15 at 23:57
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    @EdwinAshworth, yes, it is deliberately vague, but I'm not picky. If someone says "Strunk & White says this", then that is an answer, even though there are problems with Strunk & White; or even if someone says "here's a Safire column where he says this", then that is an answer, too. If someone says "my grade-school teacher told me this", then that is not an answer to the question that I asked. – LSpice Oct 15 '15 at 0:39
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    @michael_timofeev, you really seem to be reading more into this question than is there. I did not mention, and do not ask for, proof. (I mentioned logic, but explicitly said that I realise that language is not always logical. I do hope for consistency, but recognise that that, too, is often missing.) I am asking exactly and only for a reference, preferably in a book that would be widely regarded as authoritative. – LSpice Oct 15 '15 at 0:50
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    @michael_timofeev I think Lil' Spice (sorry, that's how your name looks to me) is just curious about whether this topic has been discussed in a formal setting. It's just a point of interest. Nothing at all wrong with that. – Albatrosspro Oct 15 '15 at 7:02
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Dear Recipient is a salutation, it is not part of the following text. Thus, it is set off above the content of the letter and followed by a comma in less formal communication.

In business formatting, the salutation (e.g., Dear Sir) is followed by a colon.

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    I am explicitly asking not for your personal description of norms or conventions (I am aware that most people do this), but rather for a reference to a standard work. – LSpice Oct 14 '15 at 22:54
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    I have found, or believe that I easily could find, documentation, online or in a standard reference, for most of the parts of a letter that you mention, but could not find by Googling any reference to the necessity of capitalising the first letter of the body text. What I'm looking for is a specific standard reference that says this. (I can't even find a web page that says it, although I'm sure that they're out there.) – LSpice Oct 14 '15 at 23:50
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    Well, there has surely been some bending over time. "Dear X" obviously started as a standard vocative followed by the content of the communication, just as plainly as if one had said it aloud: "Dear John, how nice to see you again!" If this was ever standard, my bet is that it was only common in handwritten letters and not printed, or -- and maybe this will edge us closer to an answer -- when the salutation and body of the letter all started on one line. The line break, in printed matter, may set the convention. – Albatrosspro Oct 15 '15 at 0:04
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    Although I can't give you an exact reference online to quote, I can tell you that there are a plethora of handbooks with this information.You may have to go to a library or bookstore to check these references. A thought that came to me though is that every "part" of the business letter begins with a capital letter. Since the body is set off, it should follow the capitalization rule for the other parts.With regard to the Salutation, perhaps the capitalized first letter in the body has to do with the fact that it follows a colon in business conventions, and is a holdover into informal format. – Katherine Oct 15 '15 at 0:06
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    @LSpice ok. I apologize for my comment. I notice you post in the mathematics education department. For many things in language it's not possible to ask the kind of questions that one does in math, or even get satisfying answers and proofs. So, even if you find a book, there exists another with contradictory information. There are rules but some people don't abide by them. In math it doesn't t work that way. There is no style guide for the Pythagorean theorem, or how to calculate a derivative. – michael_timofeev Oct 15 '15 at 0:53
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I was taught this in engish class, " Dear Sally, How are you? " This is correct to me.

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    Thank you. As I mentioned (see english.stackexchange.com/questions/280100/… and "does any standard reference book require, forbid, or otherwise discuss this practice" in the text of the question), I am interested in the pseudo-authoritative position of a standard reference book, not in individuals' preferences, habits, or experiences. – LSpice Mar 29 at 20:34

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