Where does the convention to capitalize the body of a letter after the salutation come from and are there any references on the subject giving definitive evidence proving this?

Answers should have a resource that explicitly states that following a salutation with a captial is a rule in English.

The definition of the body starting after the comma in a new paragraph being a new sentence is an exception to this rule. I would like to know where this is defined, preferably with an example from a linguistic book that is widely accepted as a reference.

Another thread I checked and didn't find a reference in can be found here.


1 Answer 1


An article by Maria Popover, in The Marginalian, contains (reformatted slightly):

I was utterly delighted to discover a rare and remarkable little book titled

How To Write Letters (UK; public library; public domain) –

a “manual of correspondence, showing the correct structure, composition, punctuation, formalities, and uses of the various kinds of Letters, Notes and Cards”, written in 1876 by J. Willis Westlake – an English Literature professor at the State Normal School in Millersville, Pennsylvania.

From how to address the recipient and sign your name to the conventions of business vs. social vs. personal letters to the most elegant way to fold the sheet, Westlake presents a guide not only to the craft of writing letters, but also to the conceptual elements of composition and the role of letters as social currency.

The example below shows that the capital-after-comma-after-salutation convention was in use, and recommended, as early as 1876:

enter image description here

Westlake even uses this convention in concluding strings, as say in:

Yours faithfully,

The men of the SS Punctuata.

The double hyphen has sadly bitten the dust. And big Brother could well be eschewed nowadays.

  • Thank you very much for your research and result! I just wished it was an English reference and not an American one. But it is interesting that back then Americans also used a comma instead of a colon. Thanks again! Dec 21, 2022 at 17:07
  • If we take the publication as being representative, they also used the comma + over-em-dash with no spaces, and no new paragraph indentation, in business letters. Dec 21, 2022 at 17:12
  • Yeah, I remember someone telling me that back than the pieces of paper being written on were a lot smaller, so it might have been done to save paper space? The script looks too perfect to have been handwritten. Also, I wonder how they would have measured the distance from the right to start the body to have that perfect alignment. Dec 21, 2022 at 17:22

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