It’s a common question: when should I use ‘your sincerely’ and when should I use ‘yours faithfully’ to finish my formal emails and/or letters.
Here we provide all the information you need to make the right choice.
The first thing to say is that these are both formal ways to finish an email or a letter (also known as salutations, which are the ways that we greet and then bid farewell to people, particularly in writing).
Getting salutations right is a necessary skill to learn quickly, particularly when you are working in English, and of course, deciding when to use ‘yours sincerely’ and ‘yours faithfully’ is a big part of this.
So, here are the important things to consider:
British English usage
As can happen with the English language, there are slight differences in opinion and habitual use when it comes to British English and American English. In general, American English would include Canada, whereas British English means every other country that speaks English. Once again, that’s a general rule.
In British English, there are particular style guides that are considered authoritative when it comes to the language, and one such guide is Henry Watson Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage. Despite being nearly a hundred years old, it is still referred to as a principle guide for writing in English. So what does Watson say exactly?
· Use ‘Yours sincerely’ when responding to invitations and friendly, but not intimate, letters
· Use ‘Yours faithfully’ when writing to unknown persons on business matters
Although ‘yours truly’ and ‘yours very truly’ have become somewhat archaic in modern British English terms, ‘yours sincerely’ and ‘yours faithfully’ are still the main go-to endings for business correspondence. Here Fowler is clear that ‘Yours sincerely’ is slightly more personal that ‘Yours faithfully’.
This approach is supported by advice given in the Oxford Handbook of Commercial Correspondence, which classifies the two terms as follows:
· Use ‘Yours sincerely’ when you know the person’s name to whom you’re writing
· Use ‘Yours faithfully’ when you begin a letter with “Dear Sir/Madam”
The Oxford Handbook of Commercial Correspondence also offers up the most informal of salutations:
· Use “Best wishes” when writing to someone you know well
And there you have it! In British English ‘Yours faithfully’ is the most formal of all, and is used when you do not have the name of the person you are writing to.
American English usage
Across the Atlantic, there is a slight difference of opinion on these matters. Firstly, things are rather less formal in the United States, but there are still conventions of sorts.
‘Yours faithfully’ doesn’t exist as a salutation in the United States. Instead, when the recipient of the email or letter is unknown, the term ‘Yours truly’ is used.
‘Sincerely’ is therefore slightly less formal, and for when you know the name of the person you are addressing the correspondence too. But instead of ‘Yours sincerely’ the inverted ‘Sincerely yours’ is preferred.
So, there we go. Transatlantic differences and the importance of knowing how to end your letter when you know the recipient’s name as opposed to when you don’t. That’s all you need to know.