Differences between British and American emails
Summary: Explanations of the differences between UK and US emails, including opening and closing British and American emails, and requests, apologies, instructions and job applications in the UK and USA.
As with British English and American English generally, UK and US emails are very similar and easy to understand for both groups of English speakers, but there are some confusing differences. The article aims to summarise all of the variations between British emails and American emails, including starting, ending, and the main body of emails.
Starting British and American emails
Opening greetings in UK and US emails
The major opening greetings (“Dear Alex”, “Dear all”, “Dear Sir or Madam”, etc) are basically the same in British and American emails. The most common differences have to do with punctuation. In American English you need a point after abbreviated titles (“Dear Mr. Case”, “Dear Ms. Case”, “Dear Dr. Case”, “Dear Mrs. Case”). Although some people in the UK also do this, it is not strictly correct in British English because the missing letters (the “iste” that you take out to make “Mr” from “Mister”) are not from the end of the word. This means that titles should be written without a point (“Dear Mr Case”, “Dear Ms Case”, “Dear Dr Case”, “Dear Mrs Case”) in British English. Use of the title “Professor” also varies a little between Britain and America, as most lecturers in British universities are not strictly professors. However, as it never hurts to flatter an academic by giving them a promotion when you write to them, it can’t hurt to use “Professor” in the UK too, even if it isn’t strictly correct.
As well as the comma or no punctuation that are used after an opening greeting in both Br. Eng. and Am. Eng. (“Dear Alex,”, “Dear Alex”), Americans sometimes use a colon after the opening greeting (“Dear Alex:”), which is rare in the UK.
In a similar way, both Americans and British tend to use “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Sir/ Madam” when you don’t know someone’s name, but Americans sometimes use the more traditional forms “Dear Sir” or “Dear Sirs”, which are generally considered too old-fashioned or even sexist in the UK.
In group emails, “Hi everyone”, “Dear all”, “To: All staff”, “Hi guys”, etc can be used to start emails in both kinds of English. Some British people, especially older ones, still resist “Hi guys”, especially if they are writing to mixed gender or all female groups of people. However, in general “Hi guys” has become equally common in the UK and United States when starting very informal group emails.
UK versus US email opening lines
As with most things in this article, the most common opening lines (“Thank you for your email about…”, “I’m writing to you about…”, “Hope you had a good weekend”, etc) are the same in Britain and the States. However, there are versions of some of those which do vary.
Americans quite often use “mail” as a synonym of “email” when mentioning previous contact in the opening line (“Thanks for your mail about…”, etc). This is rare in UK emails and very informal if used. If you mention the date of previous contact, dates are written the opposite way round in British and American English (“Thank you for your email of 29 January” in British vs “Thank you for your email of January 29” in American).
Social opening lines can also vary. The most common friendlier form of “How are you?” in American English is “How are you doing?”, and you might sometimes want to use the super-casual version “What’s up?” (or even “Wassup?”) “How are you doing?” is not used in British English, and “What’s up?” has the very different meaning of “What’s wrong?” and so isn’t suitable for emails. More informal versions of “How are you?” in British English include “How’s it going?”, “How are things?” and “How’s life?”
Another good variation on the slightly impersonal opening line “How are you?” is to ask about more specific things with sentences like “How was your trip?” and “I hope your presentation went okay”. This kind of opening line varies when it is about (long) time off, with the American “How was your vacation?”/ “I hope you had a good vacation” being equivalent to the UK “How was your holiday?”/ “I hope you had a good holiday”. (When an American says “holiday”, they mean “national holiday”, sometimes called “bank holiday in Britain).
Ending British and American emails
UK vs US email closing lines
Yet again, the most common ones (“I look forward to hearing from you”, “If you need any more information, please do not hesitate to contact me”, “Thanks in advance”, “Once again, please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused”, etc) are shared between America and the United Kingdom. Of those common kinds of closing emails, the only major difference is “Cheers”.
“Cheers” is an informal British version of “Thank you in advance” at the end of request emails, which is very common at the end of British emails. It is also very useful, because the more formal “Thank you in advance” can be a bit heavy, like reminding someone at the end of a conversation that you need something to be done. For that reason, some Americans have picked up “Cheers”. However, it is still very rare in the US and is usually conscious borrowing from British English rather than a part of US English.
There are also small differences in some of the rarer and more specific closing lines offering more help (“If…, please…”). For example, “Please phone my mobile (phone) if you get lost” in British English is “Please phone my cell(phone) if you get lost” in American, and “Please text me if you have any problems getting there” is “Please send me an SMS if you have any problems getting there” in American English.
When it comes to job applications, in my experience Americans tend to end with a special phrase trying to really appeal to the reader (“I really hope I have the chance to contribute to the success of your company soon”, “I look forward to having the chance to explain more why I think ABC Ltd would be the perfect place for me”, etc), while Brits tend to stick to fairly standard closing lines (“If you need any more information, please contact me” and/ or something like “I look forward to hearing from you and having the chance to speak to you soon”).
British and American email closing greetings
Choices in which informal closing greetings to use tend to be more about personal preference than regional variance, with some people from both the UK and the USA often using “All the best”, “Kind regards”, “BR”, “Best wishes”, etc, but other people avoiding or even hating the same phrases.
There are more predictable and more important differences in formal closing salutations. Firstly, British English has two super-formal forms with an important difference in how they are used, “Yours sincerely” and “Yours faithfully”. “Yours faithfully” is only used at the end of an email starting with “Dear Sir/ Madam” or “Dear Sir or Madam”. “Yours sincerely” is therefore used to end very formal emails starting with names (“Dear Mr Case”, “Dear Ms Case”, etc). “Yours faithfully” and “Yours sincerely” are not used in American English. There are two similar-looking phrases in American English (“Sincerely” and “Sincerely yours”) but they are used interchangeably with any kind of super-formal email, meaning it doesn’t matter if the name is used at the beginning of the email or not. “Sincerely” and “Sincerely yours” are not standard in British English.
The other possibility with very formal American emails is to use the most common closing greeting in standard business emails, “Best regards”. “Best regards” is also very common in British emails, but can’t be used in very formal situations such as legal-sounding complaints and job applications, where “Yours sincerely” and “Yours faithfully” are the only ones which are formal enough. In other words, “Best regards” is slightly more formal in American English than it is considered to be in the UK.
All of this means that there is no avoiding having to remember to use the right one of “Yours faithfully” and “Yours sincerely” in very formal British emails and letters. Even native speakers can make mistakes with this, especially nowadays when many people rarely write or receive very formal emails. Two ways of remembering which one is which out of “Yours sincerely” and “Yours faithfully” are:
- You never use two letter S phrases in one email, so “Yours sincerely” doesn’t go with “Dear Sir or Madam”
- The two closing greetings are the opposite way round to how you might expect given the meaning, with the more personal sounding “faithful” strangely going with the more impersonal “Dear Sir/ Madam”
Note that neither of these are reasons why we use those forms, but simply ways of making them easier to remember.
The body of UK and US emails
Theoretically, almost any difference between British and American English could come up in the body of the email, depending on the topic or function. This section deals with some of the more common functions for emails, namely requests, making arrangements, apologising, giving instructions, job applications and checking progress.
UK versus US request emails
“Could you…?”/ “Could I…?” is a very common way to make requests in both UK and US English, but the common variations on that vary. British people also often use “Can you…?”/ “Can I…?”, but this can be considered too casual, rude or even wrong in the same situations in American English.
For more polite request in American English, “May I…?” is very common. For Brits “May I…?” is only used for asking for permission, not requests. Longer forms like “Could I possibly… (if it’s not too much trouble)?” are therefore used for polite requests.
One specific request that comes up with emailing a fair amount also varies in the UK and the US, being “Could you fill in the attached form?” in British and “Could you fill out the attached form?” in American.
British-style and American-style making arrangements emails
English emails making invitations, fixing meetings etc don’t vary that much. For example, in both places we usually include really detailed reasons for saying no to an invitation (which is less common in many other countries). The biggest differences between UK-style and US-style making arrangements emails tend to be connected to prepositions of time, e.g. “Monday thru Friday” in American English against “Monday to Friday” in British, and “on the weekend” in the USA vs “at the weekend” in the UK.
The point mentioned above about the order in which dates are written in British and American English is also relevant here. This means that 2/3/16 could be taken to mean 2 March 2016 by a British person or February 3 2016 by someone from the States. You should therefore always write dates with the month as a word, and usually also include the day of the week (“Monday 4 March” in British or “Monday March 4” in American).
UK vs US apology emails/ replies to complaints
This issue is more of a cultural difference. American companies often ban their employees from actually apologising when they receive complaints (at least initially), as this might seem like the company is accepting responsibility and so weaken the position of the company, for example if they are later sued by the customer. American companies therefore tend to respond with phrases which sound sympathetic but aren’t actually apologising like “I was sorry to hear about your issues with…” This is also becoming more and more common in the UK. However, traditional British communication style includes a lot of apologising, and some UK customers can respond very negatively to any attempt to get out of using an actual apology. Therefore, if at all possible British emails tend to have actually apologies like “I am sorry about your issues with…”
A much smaller difference related to apologies is do with the general difference in the spelling of “-ize” endings. As well as the “-ize” form used in America (“I would like to apologize for…”), the British also have an “-ise” ending (“I would like to apologise for…”) which is not used in American English. Both forms are correct in UK English, but Brits tend to prefer “-ise”.
British and American emails giving instructions/ demanding action
Possibly the greatest complaint between colleagues from these two countries is the British saying that Americans are too direct, and Americans saying British are too indirect and therefore difficult to understand. This is a particular issue when it comes to giving instructions, e.g. from a boss to someone in their team. British bosses tend to use polite requests language like “It would be a great help if you could…” and “If at all possible,…”, whereas Americans use language that more clearly means “You have to…”, even if the language is much more polite (“Would you…?”, “I’d like you to…”, etc). Although instructions from a boss are usually understood and accepted as such, there is a small difference that a British style order could make the team member think the duty is optional, and that the British employee could feel that their boss could be more polite. This can also be an issue in emails.
British and American job application emails
As well as the differences in closing lines mentioned above, there can be some differences in the body of cover letters. In my experience, American job applications tend to concentrate more on showing that they can sell themselves, whereas British cover letters tend to just focus more on the basic facts. This can mean that Brits reading American applications sometimes think “Yes, well, everyone would say that, wouldn’t they?” and/ or “And where is the evidence for that?” In contrast, Americans reading UK cover letters may assume everyone oversells themselves in a job application and so the British applicant must be even less qualified than their rather modest description of their achievements suggests. Alternatively, they might decide that the UK applicant won’t have the ability to sell themselves and their ideas that they will need in their job.
In addition to the cultural differences, there is a difference in the sentence mentioning the attachment with a cover letter, as it is “Please find my CV attached” in British and “Please find my résumé attached” in American.
US and UK progress check emails
This is a good example of the most famous difference between British and American grammar, which is the British love of the Present Perfect (“has/ have + Past Participle”). Americans tend to use Past Simple with “yet” and “already” when checking and reporting on progress (“Did you finish the report yet?”, “I already finished half of the PowerPoint”, etc), whereas in British emails you need to use Present Perfect (“Have you finished the report yet?”, “I’ve already finished half of the PowerPoint”, etc).
List of differences between British and American emails
Phrases with stars (*) below are also correct on the opposite side of the table, meaning they are also right in the other kind of English. See the article above for more details.
Dear Alex*/ Dear Alex,*
Dear Mr Case
Dear Ms Case
Dear Mrs Case
Dear Dr Case
Dear Mr. Case
Dear Ms. Case
Dear Mrs. Case
Dear Dr. Case
Dear Sir or Madam*
Dear Sir/ Madam*
Thanks for your email about…*
Thank you for your email of 29 January.
Thanks for your mail about…
Thank you for your email of January 29.
How’s it going?*/ How are things?/ How’s life?
How are you doing?/ What’s up?/ Wassup?
I hope you had a good holiday. How was your holiday?
I hope you had a good vacation.
How was your vacation?
Thanks (in advance).*
Please phone my mobile (phone) if you get lost.
Please text me if you have any problems getting there.
Please phone me on my cell(phone) if you get lost.
Please send me an SMS if you have any problems getting there.
Very formal closing greetings
Sincerely/ Sincerely yours/ Best regards*
Sincerely/ Sincerely yours/ Best regards*
Body of the email
Could I possibly…?
Could you fill in the attached form?
Could you fill out the attached form?
Making arrangements emails
Monday to Friday*
at the weekend
Monday 29 November
Monday thru Friday
on the weekend
Monday November 29
Apologising emails/ Replying to complaints emails
I’m sorry about your problems with…*
I would like to apologise for…
I was sorry to hear about your problems with…*
I would like to apologize for…*
Giving instructions emails/ Demanding action emails
It would be really helpful if you could…*
I’d like you to…*
Please find my CV attached.
Please find my résumé attached.
Progress check emails
Have you… yet?
I have already…
Did you… yet?
I already… (ed).