I need some help in why you need to use 'Yours sincerely' when you do know the name of the participant receiving the letter and 'Yours faithfully' when you don't. To simplify it what is the history or reference that set these rules in English language.

  • 1
    "Yours faithfully" is an old-fashioned complimentary close (as we used to call it decades ago when I was in school) to a letter. "Yours sincerely", or, more usually, "Sincerely yours", is an appropriate close for almost any business letter and most "friendly" letters (as we used to call them). It's a custom, not a fixed rule.
    – tautophile
    May 25, 2018 at 16:35
  • I wonder why I got a downvote for saying that? May 25, 2018 at 16:51
  • I just found out that this is called a valediction. In "the old days" people used to write things like 'I beg to remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant'.
    – user184130
    May 25, 2018 at 17:31
  • @tautophile In the 1950s when I was at school, it was always suggested to us that a letter which began "Dear Michael" or "Dear Mr Betts" should be ended "Yours sincerely", but one beginning "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam" should end with "Yours faithfully". However the latter is rarely used nowadays, and I end all my letters (other than informal ones) with "Yours sincerely". I never use "Sincerely yours" and I don't know anyone who does. It is something one rarely sees in Britain.
    – WS2
    May 25, 2018 at 20:48
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    The question is a duplicate of https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/431021/the-origin-of-yours-sincerely-and-yours-faithfully, which, however, has never been answered adequately. It is quite possible that it is unanswerable, because it is seeking an explanation of something that may turn out to be an entirely arbitrary convention.
    – jsw29
    May 25, 2018 at 22:42

1 Answer 1


In 1926 in "Modern English Usage" page 332, H. W. Fowler listed these phrases and their uses:

Yours faithfully (to unknown person on business) Yours truly (to slight acquaintance) Yours very truly (ceremonious but cordial) Yours sincerely (in invitations and friendly but not intimate letters)


What we write at the start and end of a letter is not dictated by rules, but rather by convention. When, having never met you, I call you Sir and later assure you that I am your faithful servant, or call you by name and later assure you that I am your sincere friend, it is understood by everyone that I do not really mean these things. I am being 'conventional'.

Rules and conventions

  • Is Fowler American? Their customs in this area are quite different to Britain. I've rarely, if ever, seen "Yours truly" used in the UK. But I know that Americans do use it.
    – WS2
    May 25, 2018 at 20:51
  • The question shows that the OP knows how to use these phrases (which has, in any event, been clarified elsewhere on this site); the question seems to be about the origin of, and perhaps about the reasons for, the differentiation between them.
    – jsw29
    May 25, 2018 at 22:54
  • 1
    Fowler wrote in 1926, nearly one hundred years ago. The conventions are different now. See this website, for example. Jul 13, 2018 at 16:44

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