Writing A Letter Or Email in French

Writing a formal letter or email in French may seem like a daunting prospect, especially as the language that you need to use has to follow certain patterns of etiquette that you would never hear in everyday speech. However, when you break down the letter down into the different set phrases employed within it, you will see that it is not that different from the type of document that you would write in English.

Opening Salutations

If you have never met the person that you are addressing before, and want to say the equivalent of ‘To whom it may concern’, you should write ‘Madame, Monsieur. However, if you know their name, you can write ‘Monsieur X’ or ‘Madame X’. The tone changes slightly if you have met them before, in which case you can be slightly less formal and say ‘Cher Monsieur X’ or ‘Chère Madame X’.

The Body Of The Letter

If you are struggling to open your letter or email, you could turn to one of the following sentences:

  • If you are following up a message that your destinataire ‘recipient’ has previously sent to you, you may write ‘en réponse à votre lettre’ or ‘je vous remercie de votre lettre’. If it is formal correspondence, as you probably know, you should always use ‘vous’ rather than ‘tu’.
  • If it is you who is beginning the exchange, a straightforward ‘je vous écris pour…’ is perhaps a good way to begin.
  • When enclosing or attaching documents, it is customary to write ‘veuillez trouver ci-joint…’ (‘please see attached…’), and if you want the recipient to send something to you, a polite way to ask is ‘veuillez me/nous faire parvenir…’.
  • While writing your letter, pay attention to French punctuation rules, and how they sometimes differ from the English. When using an exclamation mark, a question mark or a colon, there is a space between the word and the symbol.

Closing Remarks

  • Just like in English, there are several different set phrases that you can use to close a letter or email in French. If you want to say ‘I look forward to hearing from you’, you can either put ‘dans l’attente de vous lire’ or ‘dans l’attente de votre réponse’, and if you think that they may want to get in touch with questions or queries, you would write ‘n’hésitez pas à me contacter si vous avez des questions’.
  • To sign off a very formal letter, it is normal to use the very elaborate phrase ‘je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur/Madame X, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées’. If the message is fairly formal, ‘meilleures salutations’ will suffice, and if you are writing to someone that you know but still want to maintain a certain level of respect, ‘(Bien) Cordialement’ or ‘Bien à vous’ is the best thing to say.

You write the address of the destinataire on the front of the envelope, using the same formula as you would in the UK or the USA, but it is also customary to write the details of the expéditeur (‘sender’) in one line across the back:

A letter with an address

Finally, if you need help navigating the French post office system, click HERE.

Click HERE for more handy language toolkits.