English Corner – Writing Formal Letters

Writing a formal letter has gone out of style with the rise of e-mails and text messages. However, it is not gone yet and if you would like to stand out as a great English writer, I really recommend you learn more about the art of writing formal letters. Writing a letter, in general, is great practice especially when it comes to developing your vocabulary and sentence structure. Being able to write down your thoughts, be truthful with your words, and hold the person’s attention singularly is not easy to do nowadays but it is not a lost art.

Simply put, it is an extremely thoughtful gesture that won’t go unnoticed by the person or people whom you write letters to. It is also a nice way for you to be able to receive letters and to work on your reading comprehension skills too as an English learner. It is also overlooked how writing a letter by hand especially will increase your penmanship and make your writing more legible. Perhaps most importantly, you are using formal language in writing letters and there are various ways you can use this kind of language from the beginning of the letter to its final conclusion.

Let’s start with writing formal letters in a general way. Depending upon the gender of the person you are writing to, it will change. In terms of greetings, your options will look like the following:

  • Dear Sir
  • Dear Madam
  • Dear Sir/Madam
  • Dear Mr Brown
  • Dear Ms Jones

Then, after the greeting and citing who you are writing to, you must state your purpose or you reason for writing your letter to them, also in a formal manner.

  • I am writing in response to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing with regard to your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing regarding your article/advertisement/letter/email/message
  • I am writing to you about my proposal / my business / my project, etc.
  • I am writing for the purpose of sharing my findings / research / news / updates, etc.

When you come to ending a generally addressed letter, you can choose to end it formally in a number of ways and it would be fine to do so in any of these cases. Here are some of the most common examples:

  • I look forward to receiving your reply
  • I look forward to your reply
  • I look to hearing from you
  • I am, yours faithfully (if you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • I am, yours sincerely (if you know the name of the person you are writing to)
  • Yours faithfully
  • Yours sincerely
  • Sincerely
  • Warm Regards
  • Best Wishes

Beyond just writing letters for general purposes, we can sometimes write letters that involve complaints whether it is to an airline for their baggage policy, to a restaurant for unusually poor service, or to a company to request money back for a product that didn’t work, sometimes, a written letter with the right language can do the trick to help you get your money back and also help maintain your patience with that same company.

If you would like to formally introduce a complaint that is singular in nature, there are a number of ways to do so and politely since you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings unnecessarily.

  • Firstly
  • In the first place
  • First of all
  • My first complaint is
  • The first problem is
  • The first thing I would like to draw your attention to is
  • My first concern is

If the letter you are writing happens to have more than one complaint, do not worry because there are ways in English for you to make it known to the reader that there is more than one thing that you disproved of or would like to see fixed in the future.

  • Secondly
  • In the second place
  • Not only…but also
  • In addition
  • In addition to this
  • Added to this
  • ________ was also unacceptable and unfortunate

The heart of this kind of complaint letter involves demanding some kind of action on the part of the reader and you can make this also known in a polite way. If you would like to see change happen, you have to be kind about it even if you are steaming mad on the inside. A sign of a mature person is when they can make their complaints known in a polite way without using insults or derogatory language to demean the person reading the letter.

After you have made your complaint(s) known, you can wrap up the letter by demanding action and then ending it with the form of resolution you hope comes about after they read it.

  • I suggest that you replace the item
  • I therefore suggest that I be given a full refund
  • I would be grateful if my money was refunded
  • I would be grateful if you could give me a full refund
  • I look forward to hearing from you
  • I look forward to receiving a full refund
  • I look forward to receiving a replacement
  • I look forward to receiving your explanation

Beyond just your complaints, formal letters are also great ways to make suggestions to people you know on how they could improve or become better in some way, shape, or form. You can describe possibilities, options, and opportunities that they did not know existed.

  • I am writing to suggest
  • I am writing to arrange
  • I am writing to offer suggestions
  • I am writing make arrangements

When it comes to making these suggestions, the beginning of your sentences should look formally like these options:

  • My first suggestion is
  • First of all, I suggest
  • I would like to suggest
  • Another possibility is
  • A further possibility is
  • I further suggest
  • I would further suggest
  • Secondly

Giving suggestions in a letter also means not forcing anybody to act or do anything they would not want to do so part of your language used should offer a choice that they must decide upon themselves. Here is how that might look in your letter’s formal language:

  • Would you therefore mind choosing between ….?
  • Either……or
  • You might choose either ……. Or

Requesting information is another big reason why people choose to write in-depth letters so they can be made aware of a person, place, or situation that they do not know much about but would like to find out more. In terms of the English language, there are numerous ways to express your reason for writing a formal letter in this case:

  • I am writing to receive further information about….
  • I am writing to inquire about…
  • I am writing to receive more detailed information about…
  • I am writing to receive further details about…

Further on in the letter, you will ask for the details or pieces of information and there are likely to be more than one of them. In these cases, you have to phrase your sentences to the point but in a polite manner so as to get that information over to you without causing any hard feelings or distrust.

  • The first thing I would like to know is…
  • First of all, I would like to know…
  • I wonder if you would mind telling me first of all ….?
  • Could you also tell me….?
  • Could you also inform me ….?
  • Would you also mind informing me ….?
  • Would you also mind telling me ….?
  • Do you know ….?
  • I would also like to know if…
  • I would also like to know whether…
  • I hope you might also let me know about…

In this particular kind of letter, you really do have to thank the person for their work in helping you get the information you requested. It probably takes a lot of work on their part so it would be nice of you to show thanks in terms of your language used towards the end of this particular letter.

  • I would like to thank you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance for this information.
  • Thanking you in advance…

Often times, you will be writing these letters to give out information that will be necessary for business, work, or for school. There are a few ways to address the reasons you are writing to give out this information such as:

  • I am writing to inform you about…
  • I am writing to provide you with information about…
  • I am writing to let you know that…

Next, you will want to lay out your main point and supporting points regarding the information you are giving out that would help the reader out and inform them of what they need to know.

  • The first thing I would like to inform you of is..
  • The first thing I would like to tell you is..
  • The first thing I wish to inform you of is..
  • I would like to begin by informing you of…
  • I would also like to let you know that…
  • I would also like to inform you that…
  • You might also find the following information useful:
  • It might also be useful for you to know that…
  • Another piece of information that might be useful is…

When you end a formal kind of informative letter, you should conclude with asking if they need anything else or if there are any other questions that they may have regarding the information given.

  • If you require further information, please do not hesitate to let me know.
  • If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to ask…
  • I will willingly provide further information on request…
  • I am at your disposal should you require further information…
  • I am at your disposal should you need further assistance…
  • Please do not hesitate to ask should you require further information…

Lastly, you will want to write a formal letter from time to time regarding requesting or asking for permission to do something, go somewhere, or start a new project. To start off your reason for writing a permission kind of letter, it should look something like this:

  • I am writing to ask permission for…
  • I am writing to ask permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission to…
  • I am writing to request permission for…
  • I am writing to ask if I might…

Your permission or request letter might come with more than one enclosed in the letter so make sure you let the reader know that there is only one request or more than one request and what are these requests specifically.

  • Firstly, I wonder if you would…
  • First of all, I wonder whether you would mind…
  • The first request I would like you to consider is…
  • I would be grateful if you would also consider doing…
  • I wonder if it might be possible for me to…
  • I would also like to request permission for…
  • I would also like to request permission to…

Make sure you thank the reader for their permission or for granting your request(s) ahead of time and upon reading the letter. Hopefully, they will grant you permission after you give them formal reasons and good explanations as to why your requests are necessary. Here are the examples:

  • Many thanks for kindly considering my requests
  • Thank you for considering my requests

Writing formal letters is clearly an underrated skill as it has gone out of practice, but people will really appreciate it if you are able to do it for them especially for a family member or a friend. You can practice your penmanship, handwriting, and your overall writing knowledge. It is clear that with enough practice, your vocabulary and your grammar will also improve, and it will benefit you in the long run.

Whether it is a letter to a work colleague about a project, a letter to your girlfriend or your boyfriend about a wedding plan, or a letter to a friend about your next semester classes, these are all formal letter examples that you can use these sentence examples to get started.

Once you have formal letters down, you can move on to more informal topics, which are much easier and much faster to master. However, becoming an expert in writing formal letters about formal topics will put you ahead in your English language learning and give you great writing practice that will stay with you as a student into the future. It will also make you a more compassionate and understanding person to communicate by letter instead of by a short e-mail, or an even shorter text message.

“Tudo Bem?”

Tudo bem? or Tudo bom? is a simple yet intriguing greeting that has been one of the most culturally interesting aspects of living in Brazil. You might be thinking what is so interesting about these two words but the greeting itself when you translate it has much more of a significance than what you would think. I find it fascinating for a number of reasons, which I will divulge during this article and it is important to keep in mind that languages including English have different ways in which people can address each other from the very neutral to the very positive.

To give some background first, I have studied a few foreign languages thus far and one of the first things you learn in any language are the greetings / salutations. The way you greet someone in another language can teach you a lot about the culture and also about the country. No one greeting is the same although the meaning is usually quite similar. What has thrown me off about ‘Tudo bem?’ is not just the brevity of it but the significance regarding its inherent positivity. I did not expect this greeting to be so prevalent, but I am fundamentally glad that it is used so regularly.

Let us start by breaking ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ down in terms of trying to translate it into English, which is not so easy on the surface. You would think it means ‘How are you?’, ‘How is everything going?’ but that is not the right translation. If we are to translate it into English, it would be more like, ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’. Instead of saying ‘Como vai voce?’ (How are you doing?) or ‘Como voce esta?’ (How are you?), I have been surprised to learn that these greetings are not as popular while ‘Tudo bom?’ or ‘Tudo bem?’ are used frequently in polite greetings whether it is with a shop keeper, bank teller, a cashier, or your neighbor from next door.

What I really like about ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ is that you are being positive and outgoing right from the start. Even if everything is just okay or you might be having a bad day, it is almost expected to say in response ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ to indicate that everything is going well and you’re doing fine even if that might be the case. To me, this represents something very unique about Brazilian culture in terms of airing on the side of being positive and upbeat. Even if you are going through some tough times or don’t think everything is alright, you are unconsciously drawn to saying that it is and to stay positive.

You do not have to always respond with ‘Tudo bem’ or ‘Tudo bom’ but during my time here, I have not really heard any answers in Portuguese with the equivalent of ‘I’m doing alright’, or ‘I’m doing okay’, or ‘I’m fine.’ Even rarer would be to say that you are not doing well, or you are sick, or you are tired. ‘Tudo bem?’ is a very casual greeting and it is usually only common to respond with the same reply or with a ‘bem’ (good), ‘bom’ (good), or even ‘tudo certo’ (all right). You don’t really say that you are doing amazing, fantastic, wonderful, or any other exuberant English equivalent when asked about ‘Tudo bem?’ but this kind of greeting in Portuguese is much more positive, and warm than I have encountered with another languages.

Greetings tend to be neutral at the outside when the person asking expects a positive answer, but the response can also be neutral or negative depending on the language used. However, I have found that Portuguese among the languages I know or have studied is the only one which leaves very little room for a neutral or negative response. I do believe that is a good thing although it can be a bit difficult to express those emotions right away. It is kind of expected to start out any interaction on a positive note by saying ‘all is well?’ and ‘all is good?’. Unless you are with a family member or a close friend, it can be tough to really express how you truly feel because they are likely not asking how you really are but just trying to be polite at the outset.

Regardless, when you compare Brazilian Portuguese to English or to Spanish, the initial greeting is much more positive in terms of the translation. While you can say ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’ in English, these are not really the initial greetings that you would use when you are talking to someone for the first time. It is much more common to say, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ instead. Saying ‘Hello, all is well?’ or ‘Hello, everything fine?’ at the outside to an English speaker would be a bit strange at first whereas ‘How are you?’ is much more of a common occurrence.

In my opinion, the same could be said with Spanish where you would address someone you have never met before with ‘Como estas?’ or ‘Como vas?’, which is a very similar translation from the English of ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ Now, you could do something similar in Spanish with a greeting of ‘Todo bien?’ which is similar to the meaning of ‘Tudo bem?’ in Portuguese. However, from my own experience, while ‘Todo bien?’ is more acceptable and can be heard from time to time, a more proper greeting in a first interaction with a native Spanish speaker is ‘Como estas?’ rather than ‘Todo bien?’ An exception would be if you had met that person before or a few times previously and consider them to be more than a stranger. That is when ‘Todo bien?’ would be used but not really when you meet someone for the first time.

Lastly, even with Turkish, the last language I have learned, you would say to somebody new: ‘Merhaba, Nasilsin?’ (Hello, how are you?) similarly to English or Spanish but there is no formal greeting used in the Turkish language where you would ask if everything is well right off the bat. In English, Spanish, or Turkish, it seems that the greeting to ask how someone is starts off as being very neutral in its meaning whereas with Brazilian Portuguese, it is fundamentally a different story. Out of all the languages that I have learned and studied, the greeting of ‘Tudo Bem?’ is fundamentally the most optimistic and positive out of all of them.

I have to say that it took me back at first when I arrived in Brazil how common it is and how it is customary to reply with a ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ in reply, usually with a smile. It is a testament to the positive and upbeat culture where even if you are having a bad day and things aren’t going well, people here try to have a happy outlook on life and to boost their spirits with a ‘Tudo bem?’ and a thumbs up. I am not a psychologist, but I can imagine seeing someone smiling and wishing you a ‘Tudo bem?’ will do wonders for your day and for your overall mood.

If you can learn any two words in Brazilian Portuguese, I would recommend that you first use ‘Tudo bem(?)’ because it is probably the most important words in the language and can both be a great question and a great answer to have under your belt as you navigate this fascinating and unique culture.