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How to Write a Letter in German

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Probably for most of you, letter-writing via snail mail is almost non-existent in your life. Except for professional related purposes or for those few older relatives who may not have internet access, you most likely depend on e-mail for written communication. Taking this in consideration, the following information may be used for either traditional letters, postcards or e-mail.

Letter Basics:

The most important aspect of letter-writing in German is to determine whether it will be a formal or a casual letter. In German, there are far more stipulations when writing a formal letter. Not adhering to these formalities, you risk sounding rude and impertinent. So please keep the following in mind when writing a letter.

  1. Opening Greeting :
    These standard formal greetings can be used for business correspondence or with anyone with whom you would normally address as Sie. (See German Polite You)

    • Formal:

      Sehr geehrter Herr….,
      Sehr geehrte Frau...,
      Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,


      If you are writing to someone with a professional title such as a doctor or a lawyer, then include it in the opening greeting:

      Sehr geehrte Frau Rechtsanwältin Neubauer
      Sehr geehrter Herr Doktor Schmidt


    • Casual:

      Lieber…., (This is the equivalent to "dear" and used only for close male relatives or friends.
      Liebe……., (Same thing as above, except used for females.)

      Unlike English, the word that follows your greeting begins with a small letter.

      Liebe Maria,
      ich bin so froh…


      Note: The more modern way is to end the greeting in a comma, however you may come across the old-fashioned pre-computer/e-mail way of putting an exclamation point at the end of the greeting: Liebe Maria!


  2. Personal Pronouns:
    It is extremely important to choose the appropriate personal pronoun. Not doing so, may make you sound impolite. For a formal letter, you will address the person as Sie, with the obligatory capital S at all times (other forms are Ihr and Ihnen, see German Polite You) Otherwise, for a close friend or relative, you will address them as du.

    Note: If you by chance peruse books on letter-writing published before 2005, you will notice that du, dir and dich are capitalized as well. That's the former rule prior to die neue Rechtschreibungsreform, when all personal pronouns used for addressing someone in a letter were capitalized.



  3. Letter Body:
    To get ideas for general polite conversation, see the Common Greetings and Courtesies and Thank You and You're Welcome articles. Otherwise here are a few phrases that may be useful:

    • Ich weiß, dass ich schon lange nicht geschrieben habe…
      I know that I haven't written in a long time...

    • Ich war so beschäftigt in letzter Zeit,...
      I was so busy lately...

    • Vielen Dank für deinen Brief. Ich habe mich sehr darüber gefreut.
      Thank you very much for your letter. I was very happy to receive it.

    • Ich hoffe, dass Sie einen herrlichen Sommer verbracht haben.
      Ich hoffe, dass du einen herrlichen Sommer verbrachst hast.
      I hope you've had a wonderful summer.

    • Ich hoffe, dass du dich besser fühlst.
      Ich hoffe, dass Sie sich besser fühlen.
      I hope you are feeling better.

    • Mein Freund hat mir deine/Ihre E-mail Adresse gegeben.
      My friend gave me your e-mail address.

    • Ich würde gerne wissen...
      I would like to know.

    • Es freut mich sehr zu hören, dass ...
      I'm glad to hear that....

    • Vielen Dank für deine/Ihre schnelle Rückantwort.
      Thank you very much for your quick response.

    More Phrases: See our articles on how to ask questions and terms of endearment.


  4. Concluding the Letter:

    • Contrary to English, there is no comma after a concluding expression in German.
      Gruß Helga

    • As in English, your name can be preceded by a possesive adjective:

      Gruß
      Dein Uwe


      You can use:
      Dein(e) -> if you are close to this person. Deine if you are female
      Ihr(e) -> if you have a formal relationship with the person. Ihre if you are female.

    • Some other expressions for concluding are:

      Casual:
      Grüße aus ...(city where you're from)
      Viele Grüße
      Liebe Grüße
      Viele Grüße und Küsse
      Alles Liebe
      Ciau (more for E-mail, postcards)
      Mach's gut (E-mail, postcards)

      More Formal
      Mit besten Grüßen
      Mit herzlichen Grüßen
      Freundliche Grüße
      Mit freundlichem Gruß

      Tip: Avoid writing Hochachtungsvoll or any form thereof - it sounds very old-fashioned and stilted.


  5. E-mail Lingo
    Some people like it a lot, others despise it. Either way, e-mail jargon is here to stay and helpful to know. Here's a few of the most common German ones.

    • mfg - Mit freundlichen Grüßen
    • vg - Viele Grüße
    • ld - Lieb' Dich
    • lg - Liebe Grüße
    • gn8 - Gute Nacht
    • hdl - Hab dich lieb

  6. On the Enveloppe:
    All names, whether it be people or a business should be addressed in the accusative. That's because you are either writing it "An (to)…." someone or it is simply implied.

    An Frau/Herr…
    Frau/Herrn…
    An die Firma
    (company)...
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