How to write a German business letter

Whether you are able to write fluently in German or just want to be able to at least address the person in German, or even just to understand what you can see on a German letter, this blog post should give you some ideas:

As you can see, there aren’t too many differences, you have your header, then write the address followed by the salutation and text. There are, however, a few things worth pointing out:

  1. The address is slightly different to an English address, the house number comes after the street name and the postcode (which is a 5 digit number) comes before the name of the place.
  2. You may wonder, why I have written Devizes in front of the date.  I have seen lots of German letters without it but it is still common practice to write the place where you are writing the letter in front of the date. And for something easy: German dates don’t have the st,nd or th after ordinal numbers. The little full stop does all that.
  3. The salutation: In my sample letter I wrote three different business salutations. The first one “Sehr geehrte Frau …” (Dear Mrs …) is followed by the surname of the female addressee, the second one “Sehr geehrter Herr” (Dear Mr …) is for the male addressee. If you really don’t know the name, write “Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,” which is the equivalent to ‘dear Sir/ Madam’. In some old books you sometimes find ‘Sehr geehrte Herren’. That’s from the times when women weren’t supposed to be business women, so I’d avoid that!
  4. When you start your main text, make sure it doesn’t start with a capital letter. As the salutation ends with a comma you carry on with a lower case. You can see on my letter that  Microsoft Word underlined the ‘then’ because it thinks it’s wrong and should have a capital letter.
  5. The standard conclusion is ‘Mit freundlichen Grüßen’ which is the equivalent of ‘Kind regards’. Again, in old books you can read the word ‘Hochachtungsvoll’ but that is seen as quite pompous nowadays.

I hope this gives you a little insight into German business letters.  If you need to write to a prospective German client for the first time, why don’t you use the German salutation and greeting, even if the rest is in English. It might just give you some extra brownie points!

What about German emails? There are also a few things worth noting which I’ll cover in my next post.

11 Responses

  1. Hallo, Angelika!
    I have a question regarding the salutation.
    I frequently want to write something like “Guten Morgen, Frau Schmidt,”
    However, I am unsure as to which punctuation to use above. Can I surround the name with commas, like so “Guten Tag, Frau Schmidt, …”
    do I omit the comma like so: “Guten Tag Frau Schmidt,” which looks terrible.
    Also, I thought I had learned to end the salutation with an exclamation point (!). Is that incorrect?
    Vielen Dank!

    1. Guten Tag, Jennifer,
      I wasn’t too sure how a salutation with guten Morgen … would be, so I searched Google, and it is like you suggested: a comma before and after the name (like I did ☺).
      As for the exclamation mark, that was common until the spelling reform. It isn’t really used any more, but if you do, you need to start the next line with a capital letter.

  2. Hey Angelika do German formal letters have a title or heading besides the addresses of the sender and receiver like the English ones do?

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  6. Hi Angelica
    How do I indicate enclosures in a letter – the equivalent of “Enc” in English business letters?

    1. Hi Maureen, the word you need is ‘Anlage’ followed by the name of the enclosed document underneath. If you have more than one document, you need the plural, which is ‘Anlagen’.

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