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E-Mails in English


Zweifellos sind E-Mails zum wichtigsten Kommunikationsmittel im Berufsleben geworden. Durch sie bleiben wir in Kontakt mit unseren Unternehmen und bekommen die Möglichkeit, über unterschiedliche Zeitzonen hinweg zu kommunizieren. Dieser TaschenGuide „E-mails in English“ soll Ihnen dabei helfen, Ihr elektronisches Instrumentarium effizienter in Ihr Berufsleben zu integrieren. Und obwohl natürlich jedermann technisch dazu in der Lage ist, eine E-Mail zu senden, wird es dennoch oft schwierig, wenn man dies in einer fremden Sprache tun soll. Wenn Sie jedoch das umsetzen, was Sie hier lesen, können Sie die elektronische Kommunikation produktiver in Ihren internationalen Geschäftskontakten einsetzen.

Dieser TaschenGuide deckt alle wichtigen Bereiche des Geschäftslebens ab und ist in thematische Einheiten gegliedert, um Ihnen einen schnellen Zugriff zu ermöglichen. Sie bekommen einerseits das nötige Handwerkszeug, um geschäftliche E-Mails effektiv verfassen zu können, und bauen andererseits Ihr Selbstvertrauen systematisch auf. Der Autor hofft, dass dieses Buch Sie ermutigt, Schreiben zu einer lohnenden Tätigkeit zu machen.

Viel Erfolg!

Sander Schroevers, LL.M

An E-mail's Anatomy

This chapter focuses on the specific elements of English business e-mails, that we don't always pay attention to, but can make all the difference.

From the following pages you can learn

  • how to make subject lines that work,

  • which openings to use,

  • and how to end an e-mail in a friendly way.

Subject Lines That Work

The subject line is one of the two most critical parts of an e-mail message. Most people (approximately 80 %) make decisions on reading and responding based on the subject line and the identity of the sender, not on a first-in – first-out basis. Nevertheless a subject line seems to be one of the most neglected lines in e-mails.

How to make subject lines in English

The first step is to consider what your reader needs or wants to know from the subject line:

  • Ideally, it is a summary of your message.

  • Just like in journalism or direct mail: the more active and informative phrases are, the quicker they result in action. That's why mentioning essential information like who, what, when already in the subject line is advisable. Try to keep it short and simple (‚k-i-s-s’) and avoid vague indications like project or update etc.

  • Always try to write subject lines that stimulate the reader to open your message. Should you need anything specific from the addressee, then introduce this in the subject line.

  • Subject lines are also handy for people who wish to archive messages. Therefore make sure that they aren't left blank and that the subject line relates to the subject of the message. Avoid lines like: one more thing or on second thoughts, if you think that your message might be archived.


Bildelement Good news Schaffhausen project

Bildelement Action needed by 4 p.m.

Bildelement November 27 committee meeting

Bildelement Update

Bildelement Status report

RE: automatically inserted

Another thing is that when choosing ‚Reply’ most e-mail programs automatically insert ‚RE:’ (short for regarding). The same happens after choosing ‚Forward’ when ‚FW:’ is inserted. The problem is – and certainly you know this from your e-mails in German – that when a message goes back and forth several times, it might lead to unnecessary automatically expanded subject lines. This can easily result in subject lines such as: „Fw: Re: Aw: Re: Aw: Feedback on seminar Julle“. You may therefore simply want to change subject lines sometimes. This also allows you to show the progression in an e-mail correspondence.


I: Request for finance Hamburg project

II: Feedback requested – financing Hamburg project

III: Feedback provided – Hamburg project

IV: Hamburg project – finance request approved

Common Salutations and Openings


Salutations or greetings can be formal or informal, depending on the situation or the relationship. And of course e-mail doesn't always follow the rules of formal business correspondence.

First name or last name?

Do bear in mind however that many English-speaking people will be quicker on first-name terms, whereas for German-speaking people it is less common to use one's first name in an e-mail message. Therefore be careful not to appear too distant in a culture which moves to first names easily because in addressing people with a more formal address, you do. And this could indicate you don't consider being friendly to your correspondent. Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that in the English language there is no difference between Sie and Du, as they both are translated with you.


A clear indication that it's all right to move to the first-person familiar is when a person signs her or his e-mail with the first name only. You may also wish to take the first step yourself by writing something like: „Dear Helen (if I may)“.

Formal or informal?

Which salutation to use may also depend on your company's e-mail policy. The table below gives an overview of the possible salutations:

Type English German
You do not know who you are writing to:
  • Dear Sir or Madam
  • Dear clients
  • Hi everyone
Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,
You know the person but you've never written to or met this person
  • Dear Mr Smith
  • Dear Mrs Wade
  • Dear Dr Young
  • Sehr geehrter Herr Müller,
  • Sehr geehrte Frau Reusch,
The person is a little bit closer Dear Sophie Reusch Liebe Frau Reusch,
The person is a close business contact or she/he has signed her or his e-mail with the first name
  • Dear Sophie
  • Hello, Sophie*
  • Hi, Sophie*
  • Sophie
  • Hi,
  • Hello,
Liebe Sophie,
Several persons/ closer contact Hi everyone Hallo zusammen

* Please note the extra comma!


Ms or Mrs? Ms is used more frequently in the meantime as this term does not disclose the marital status. Only if the addressee refers to herself as Mrs, do you assume this salutation. The English Miss is out of date just as is the German Fräulein. Dear Sirs or Dear Gentlemen also seems old fashioned nowadays.

Professions or positions in salutations

Just like it is possible in German to mention a profession or position in the opening without using a person's name, this can also be done in English. In this case, the specific word must be written with a capital. For instance as in: Dear Colleague, Dear Webmaster, etc.

Non-gendered salutations / several persons

When sending bulk e-mail invitations, try to use non-gendered salutations like colleagues or friends. To whom it may concern still seems to function in e-mails, though its use appears to be on the decline. Nowadays e-mail writers prefer to use salutations like: Hi all, Hi there, Dear All, Dear Team, Dear Co-workers and so on.

Woman or man?

With certain languages you may not always be sure whether you are writing to a man or a woman. In cases where you aren't sure, it is acceptable to write the full name in the salutation. For example: Dear Moriko Kira (this is a Japanese name, where Moriko is the female first name, and Kira is the family name). In Asian cultures (e.g. Japan, Korea, Vietnam, but also in Hungary) the family name comes first. Thus: Mrs. Kira Moriko. Family names in Slavic languages often have masculine and feminine versions. The latter can be recognised by the female suffix, often ending with ‚a’ or ‚e’.

No salutations?

Is it necessary to always use a salutation or greeting? Not always, although it usually is. But in back-and-forth e-mail correspondence, for instance, salutations quickly seem to be disappearing. And perhaps there is no need to identify or reinforce the parameters over and over again. The same applies for a quick answer to a short question for people who know each other well. Also e-mails among colleagues that are part of an ongoing conversation do not require a salutation or greeting.

Checklist: formal or informal salutations
  • Is the addressee outside the organisation? Then you usually need a formal salutation.
  • Is the addressee a colleague or a friend? Then you can use an informal salutation, or even begin with the person's first name.
  • Have you had previous contact? Then choose between formal and informal, depending on that contact.
  • Note how the sender addressed you. You probably want to return the same salutation.
Punctuation marks and abbreviations

Should there be a colon, a comma or no punctuation after the salutation? The right answer depends on the country you are e-mailing to.


Bildelement no punctuation: Dear Mr Smith

Bildelement colon: Dear Mr Smith:

In other English speaking areas a comma is used: Dear Mr Smith,

When using abbreviations there is another important difference you should pay attention to:


Contractions in British English are generally written without a full stop, e.g. Mr, Mrs and Ms – American English usually uses a full stop however, called period in North America, e.g. Mr., Mrs. and Ms.

Bildelement Mrs / Mr

Bildelement Mrs. / Mr.


colon: Doppelpunkt

punctuation: Satzzeichen

contraction: Zusammenziehung

Bildelement full stop / Bildelement period: Punkt

Opening sentences

Use one of the following phrases to refer to earlier contact or to give the reason why you are writing.

Formal: referring to earlier contact

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    Viel Spaß!