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Writing Letters in French

Writing Letters in French

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Letter writing in French

The following advice about writing letters in French is not exhaustive, but should
be regarded as information which will make your letters more "French" and very
importantly may avoid misunderstandings or misinterpretations. Being familiar
with some of the conventions of French letter writing will also be of interest when
you receive letters in French or English from French native speakers.

Laying out the letter

In formal letters if you are writing on a plain sheet of paper, it is normal to write
your name, without title, above your address at the top of the page, on the left-
hand side of the sheet. When writing your own address at the top of the letter, it
is of course quite correct to place commas at the ends of lines, if you wish.
However, when writing the address of your French addressee in a formal letter or
on the envelope, it is worth remembering that end-of-line punctuation is not the
norm in France and may even be regarded as a mistake or something which may
cause a letter to be misdirected.

The addressee’s name and address should be inserted below your address on the
right-hand side of the sheet. In a letter to someone with a title, in a business for
instance, the title is placed after the addressee’s full name.

The full forms should always be used. Abbreviations can be used on the
envelope if the full form doesn’t fit (












). Note that the full stop is only used after

M .

The date comes after the addressee’s name and is usually also on the
right-hand side of the sheet.

When writing an informal letter it is customary not to include either your
own or the addressee’s address. In this type of letter, people often write
the name of the place they are in, followed by the date at the top of the
page. The place is the town, city, village or other recognizable location.

Bordeaux, le 12 juillet 2002

In writing the date, the day number is preceded by le. Note also that in
French, unlike in English, names of the month are not capitalized. The
convention is to write dates: day-month-year. More informally you can
write this information in numerals: 12-07-02.


In formal letters whether you know the name of the person you are writing to or

To a man: Monsieur


To a woman: Madame





When you don’t know if your letter will be read by a man or a woman: Madame,
Monsieur, Messieurs,

To a lawyer: Maître,

This opening appears on the left-hand side. Note the use of the comma, which is
obligatory. Note: when writing to a woman and when in doubt about her marital
status, it is always better to use Madame rather than Mademoiselle.

For official certificates, such as attestations of employment, the opening usually
is: À qui de droit (to whom it may concern).

In slightly less formal letters if you know the name of the addressee, you can also

Cher monsieur Dupont,
Chère madame Durand,

which is slightly less formal.

In a business letter when you have established a good relationship with the
addressee, cher/chère followed by the addressee’s given name is appropriate:

Cher Antoine,
Chère Elisa,

In informal letters or when you know the addressee well, an opening following
cher/chère or mon cher/ma chère is appropriate:

Cher Matthieu,
Chère Béatrice,
Chers Béatrice et Matthieu,
Chers tous,
Ma chère Béatrice,
Mon cher Papa,

Closing the Letter

If you read correspondence manuals in French you will probably be surprised at
how many potential letter endings there are for formal correspondence. Modern
practice is to use a limited number of endings and to keep them shorter and less
formal than was formerly the case. The following are should be adequate for
most situations.

Formal endings:

In formal letters, the form of address chosen for the opening formula should be
reflected in the closing formula, i.e. if you’ve started your letter with Madame, it
should end with something like: Veuillez agréer, Madame, l’expression de mes
salutations distinguées. All of the examples below should be immediately
followed by your signature.


Dans l’attente de vous lire, je vous prie d’agréer, Messieurs, l’expression
de mes sentiments distingués.
Pending you read, please accept, Sir, the assurances of my highest
Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest
Je vous adresse, Madame, Monsieur, mes salutations distinguées.
I wish you, Madam, Yours sincerely
Je vous prie de croire, Madame, en nos sentiments dévoués.
I beg you to believe, Madame, we feel committed

Less formal endings:

Salutations distinguées.


In friendly personal letters, the following are often used:

Bien à vous,
A bientôt,
Avec toute mon affection,
Grosses bises,

In letters to family members, endings are obviously freer, but some typical ones

Grosses bises,
Je t’embrasse très fort,

Addressing the envelope

The address should be carefully written taking account of the comments about
laying out the letter made above. If you want to include your return address on
the envelope, this should be written on the back of the envelope after the word:
Exp. (short for Expéditeur/-trice). An example would be along the lines of:

Exp.: Mary O’Reilly, 867 Fifth Avenue, New York NY10022, USA.

Street names

The full street name is often abbreviated in correspondence, especially on the
envelope. For example,


can be written



Boulevard Bd.

e.g. 180 Av. du G


Leclerc (180 Avenue du Général Leclerc)

The format and content of letters in France are somewhat different than in



The position of the sender's address and recipient's address is different from the
English norm (in fact, the exact reverse of the positions used in most
English speaking countries
). Your name and address should be in the top-left
corner and the recipient's name and address should be underneath on the right
hand side. In the case of pre-printed stationary or business stationary this rule is
not always followed, but these positions are the norm for letters on a plain sheet
of paper. Normally the addresses will not have commas at the ends of lines.

David Smith
10, Rue du Peupliers
39000 Lons-le-Saunier

Monsieur Pierre Dubois
3, Place de Indépendence
72147 Arbois


Monsieur Dubois,

Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, l'expression de mes sentiments distingués,

David Smith

Your name should be without title (David Smith, not Mr. David Smith). However,
the person you are addressing the letter to should have his title (Monsieur Pierre
Dubois, or in the case of certain professions Maître Pierre Dubois). The full title of
the addressee should be used (Monsieur Pierre Dubois, not M. Pierre Dubois) on
the letter, although abbreviations are acceptable on the envelope if there is
insufficient room.

If the addressee has a title (in a business for instance), this should be placed on
the line after his full name.

David Smith
10, Rue du Peupliers
39000 Lons-le-Saunier

Monsieur Pierre Dubois
Director d'agence
Banque Agricole
3, Place de Indépendence
72147 Arbois

Le 17 juillet 2005



Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, l'expression de mes sentiments distingués,

David Smith

In some cases, the sender's name will be reversed and have the surname in
capitals (SMITH David rather than David Smith). Note that in this case (unlike the
English norm) there is no comma between the surname and the first name
(SMITH David rather than SMITH, David).


The date comes after the recipient's address, also on the right-hand side of the
page. The day is preceded by "Le" and the names of months are not capitalized.
In less formal letters the date can be written as numerals; in this case it is in the
format day-month-year rather than month-day-year (see

Salutation( Greeting)

The greetings appear on the left side (as in English letters) and are as follows:

• to a man: Monsieur
• to a woman: Madame (if married) or Mademoiselle (if very young and
• if you don't know if it is a man or a woman: Madame, Monsieur, Messieurs
• for certain professions (e.g. lawyer, notaire): Maître
• for certain official certificates: À qui de droit (to whom it may concern)

The use of a person's name is normally reserved for less formal letters (e.g. Cher
Monsieur Dubois or Chère Madame Dubois). Between friends and family one
would use first names (e.g. Cher Pierre).

In all cases, the greeting is followed by a comma. See Sample letter 1
and Sample letter 2.


The letter closing is perhaps the most (or even only) complex part of a
French letter. As this is a fairly substantial topic on it's own, a dedicated
page is provided at Letter closings.

French letter Closings

In English correspondence there are a relatively small number of closings (yours
truly, yours sincerely, etc.). In French there is a great variety and in formal letters
they are generally elaborate; this is perhaps the most difficult area of writing a
French letter as one must take into account social conventions rather than simply


do a literal translation. Fortunately, the closings all follow the same format,
consisting of four parts. The four parts can be roughly translated as the following
(I've added the colours to distinguish between the four parts):

Following are some example closings, again with colours to show the four

Veuillez agréer, Madame, l'assurance de mes sentiments distingués
/Accept, Madam, the assurances of my highest

Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, l'expression de mes sentiments distingués/

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest

Je vous prie d'agréer, Madame et Monsieur, l'expression de mes
respectueuses salutations /Please accept, Madam and Sir, the assurances
of my respectful greetings

In more detail, these four parts are:

• A request that you agree or accept the following good wishes. For
example: Je vous prie d'agréer (roughly translates to "I pray that you

• The title (e.g. Monsieur) of the person you are writing to. This should
match with the opening so if you opened with Monsieur you should also
close with Monsieur, if you opened with Messieurs you should then close
with Messieurs, and so on.
• The expression or assurance of the following statement.
• A respectful statement.

Options for Closing a French Letter-

The following table shows various options for the first, third and fourth part of the
closings as described above. The second part, as noted above, is merely the
person's title. This should replace the '...' shown in the first column.

For each of the three columns, the phrases are listed from the most formal to the
most informal. Consequently, for a close friendship one would normally chose a
phrase near the bottom of the column whereas for a formal letter a phrase near
the top would be more appropriate. In years past, the phrases near the top of
each column were more commonly used. However, a gradual decrease in
formality has resulted in this becoming somewhat less common.


ssion of

Respectful statement Not


Je vous prie

l'assurance de ma considération



Je vous prie
l'expression de mes sentiments


Je vous prie de
croire,..., à

mes sentiments



mes sincères

Veuillez croire,...,

mes respectueux



mes salutations

Croyez,..., à

mes sentiments


mes cordiales


mes sentiments les


mon meilleur souvenir4
mon bon sourvenir 4
mon fidèle souvenir 4

The following notes are applicable only to the third column of this table
(respectful statement):

1. This phrase should normally not be used when a man is writing to a
woman. It is OK for a man writing to a man or a woman writing to a
man. This restriction is due to the fact that the word "sentiments",
when used from a man to a woman, can also mean romantic
feelings. Consequently, unless one has a recognised romantic
relationship, it is generally not done for a man to use these phrases
when writing to a woman. Having said that, even among the French
this restriction is often not followed.
2. This phrase is normally not used by a woman writing to a man.
Same issue as above, except in reverse.
3. Some people would consider these phrases pompous. In modern
French culture, these would normally be used when writing to
someone with a formal and important social role (e.g. the mayor of

4. These phrases, at the bottom of the column, are the most informal.
They would normally be used where there were friendly relations
and not in the more formal letters.
5. This phrase is often used when writing to one's boss or a client. The
term 'dévoués' translates to 'devoted', confirming one's devotion to
work or the client's requirements.


One can make the closing less formal by omitting the phrase in the second
column (l'assurance de, l'expression de). If this is done, the 'à' in the first
column must also be deleted.

The examples in the above table are written in the first person singular
(i.e. a letter from yourself as an individual). If you are writing on behalf of
a group or a company, you will likely want to change these expressions to
the plural. This is done by:

• Replacing 'je' by 'nous' in the first column (only necessary for the
first 3 items, the remaining four don not need changes).
• Replacing 'ma', 'mes', and 'mon' by the corresponding plural form
• Changing all verb conjugations to the plural.

Less Formal Closings & Intimate Closings-

In less formal letters, there are also a great variety of possible simpler and more
intimate closings. For example: Salutations distinguées, Cordialement or
Amicalement. With family or close friends possible closings include: Grosses
bises, Affectueusement, Je t'embrasse.

EMAILs often have informal closings (e.g. 'Cordialement'), unless the subject of
the EMAIL itself is formal. This appears to be related to the general trend to less
formality in terms of salutations and closings.


The closing is often preceded by a phrase, typically asking you to do
something or thanking you for having done something. It is simply placed
in front of the closing. For example, instead of "Veuillez agréer, Madame,
l'assurance de mes sentiments distingués" one could write "Dans l'attente
de votre réponse, veuillez agréer, Madame, l'assurance de mes sentiments
distingués". Following are some typical examples:


Rough meaning

Dans l'attente de votre réponse... While waiting for your

Comptant sur une prompte

Counting on a prompt

Avec mes remerciements...

With my thanks...

Dans l'attente de vous lire...

While waiting to hear from you...

Vous remerciant par avance...

Thanking you in advance...


The return address is frequently put on the back of the envelope, under
Expediteur (French for 'sender'). If put on the front, it is normal practice to
make an 'x' over the address. The post office claims that if this is not


done, the sending address and return address may be confused by their

French Phrases: How to write a letter


Pièces jointes / P.J.-Enclosed / Encl

Nous vous remercions de...-Thank you for......

votre commande-...your order...

votre lettre du 10 janvier-...your letter of 10 January

Veuillez...-Please......trouver ci-joint-...find enclosed/attached...

nous faire parvenir-...send us...nous excuser de-...accept our
apologies for

Suite à notre conversation-Following our conversation

Suite à votre annonce dans...-Following your advertisement in...

Nous vous serions reconnaissants de nous faire parvenir...-We
would be grateful if you could send us...

N'hésitez pas à me/nous contacter...-Do not hesitate to contact

le cas échéant-...if need be...si vous avez besoin de...-...if you

plus amples renseignements-...further information

Dans l'attente de votre réponse-I/we look forward to hearing from you

"Dans l'attente"-"look forward to hearing" (shortened form sometimes
used in semi-informal correspondence)

Letter openings

In informal letters, the word cher (feminine chère) is used in a similar way to
English Dear. In more formal letters, the word Monsieur etc tends to stand on its
own (though Cher Monsieur etc is possible).

Cher Michel

-Dear Michel (male form)

Chère Michelle

-Dear Michelle (female form)

Chers Michel et

-Dear Michel and Danielle


Salut Daniel!

-Hi Daniel!
Bonjour (à tous)! -Hello (all)! (Used in e-mails)

-Hi there! (Very informal; suitable for an informal
e-mail between friends)


-Hi again! (Very informal; suitable for an informal
e-mail between friends)

Chers Collègues -Dear Colleagues

-Dear Sir


-Dear Madame


-Dear Sirs

Monsieur le

-Dear Sir (writing to a director, CEO etc)

Monsieur le
-Dear Mayor/Headmaster

Closures: informal

Closures to informal letters are less formulaic than formal or business letters, so
there are a variety of possibilities. Here are some common ones:

Je t'embrasse - Big hugs
Amicalement - Best wishes (used between friends)

- Love from...

(Grosses) bises - =(big) hugs
Gros bisous - Love (and kisses)

- Kisses (humorous variant used in e-mail and text

Closures: formal

Traditionally, French business correspondence ends with one of various
silly long-winded formulae, although particularly in the case of e-mail
correspondence, these are starting to go out the window. A common
favourite for closing a semi-formal business e-mail is cordialement.

Veuillez recevoir,
Monsieur/Madame, nos
salutations distingués.

-=Yours sincerely

Je vous prie d'agréer,
l'expression de mes
sentiments respectueux.

-=Yours sincerely, when writing to
a superior

Veuillez agréer,

-=Yours sincerely, when writing to


Monsieur/Madame, l'assurance
de notre parfaite

somebody of a lower grade

Je vous prie de croire,
Monsieur/Madame, à
l'assurance de mes salutations

-=Yours faithfully/sincerely, used
especially when writing to a person
in an important position



Phrases: Personal | Letter (English-French)




Letter : Address

Mr. N. Summerbee
335 Main Street
New York NY 92926

Jean Dupont
18 rue des acacias
75500 PARIS.

Standard English
Address format:
name of recipient
street number +
street name
name of town +
region/state +
zip/postal code.

Jeremy Rhodes
212 Silverback Drive
California Springs CA

Mr. J. Rhodes
212 Silverback Drive
California Springs CA

American address
Name of recipient
Street number +
street name
Name of town +
state abbreviation +
zip code

Adam Smith
8 Crossfield Road
Selly Oak
West Midlands
B29 1WQ

Adam Smith
8 Crossfield Road
Selly Oak
West Midlands
B29 1WQ

British and Irish
address format:
Name of recipient
Number + street
Town/city name
Postal code

Sally Davies
155 Mountain Rise
Antogonish NS B2G 5T8

Patrice Clerc
44 rue des océans

Canadian address
Name of recipient
Street number +
street name
Name of town +
abbreviation +
postal code

Celia Jones

Jacques Durand

Australian address


47 Herbert Street
Perth WA 6018

rue des fleurs 25

Name of recipient
Street number +
street name
Name of province
Town/city name +
postal code

Alex Marshall
745 King Street
West End, Wellington 0680

Stephane Rolex
50 rue des arbres
1500 GENÈVE.

New Zealand
address format:
Name of recipient
Number + street
number/PO box
Town/city + postal

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