How to Properly Write a Formal Email
In your daily life, do you need to write formal emails in Chinese? Believe it or not, writing proper emails is really different from daily conversation. There are so many details that you need to pay attention to if you are writing to your boss, your clients, or anyone whose social status is higher than yours. But even though it might be a bit complicated, in this post, I will try to break things down to make it easier to understand.
Structure of the E-Mail
Let’s start with the whole picture, the structure of the email. It’s quite similar to a Western-style email: Salutation → Content → Blessing → Signature. So in the following content, we will learn how to write a formal e-mail in this order.
A. Format: Align Text to the Left
B. Words to use:
- A close friend or cousin/sibling:
Just write down his/her name and put “：” after it. For example, 小明：
- To an unfamiliar person or older relative: Address him/her by his/her title and put “：” after it. For example,
阿姨 [āyí] aunt,
同学 (同學) [tóngxué] classmate,
经理 (經理) [jīnglǐ] manager.
Besides, we can also mention his/her last name or full name in front of the title.
- To be formal: Add a description ahead of the title. For example:
敬爱的 (敬愛的) [jìng’ài de]respected and beloved,
亲爱的 (親愛的) [ qīn’ài de] dear,
尊敬的 [zūnjìng de] respected
- To be extremely formal: We would need to specify the position and add a specific phrase to indicate that the writer is respectfully asking the recipient to read the mail. For example:
__ 公司人事部经理 ___ 先生大鉴
(___ 公司人事部經理 ___ 先生大鑒)
[___ gōngsī rénshì bù jīnglǐ ___ xiānsheng dà jiàn]
to Mr. ___, HR Manager at ___ Company
___ 中学___ 校长道鉴
(___ 中學 ___校長道鑒)
[___ Zhōngxué ___xiào zhǎng dào jiàn]
to Principal ___ from ___ Middle School
From the examples above, you might find that the phrases after the titles all have the word 鉴 (鑒) [jiàn] which means “to read (mail)”. But the words ahead of鉴 (鑒) are different, although they both mean “respectfully”. We use different words when writing to different people. The following words are the common ones that people use:
- 大 (大) [dà] to those being the same age as you are, e.g. colleagues.
- 钧 (鈞) [jūn] to those older than you or those work in politics and military, e.g. older colleagues, members of parliament, and admirals.
- 青 (青) [qīng] to those younger than you, e.g. younger colleagues.
- 道 (道) [dào] to those work in a school or academic area, e.g. teachers, professors, and principals.
- 礼 (禮) [lǐ] is used when writing a condolences letter.
5. To unfamiliar or unknown people:
您好 (您好) [nín hǎo] to one person.
敬启者 (敬啟者) [jìng qǐ zhě] used in an official document.
各位好 (各位好) [gèwèi hǎo] to many people.
A. Format: 2 spaces (2 Chinese characters) from the left margin.
B. Words to use:
We use the following common words in a formal letter, but of course, we don’t use them between friends.
- Family members:
家父 [jiāfù] my dad (家originally means “home”, but here it means “my”.)
家母 [jiāmǔ] my mom
家兄 [jiāxiōng] my older brother
家姐 [jiā jiě] my older sister
舍弟 [shè dì] my younger brother (舍originally means “home”, but here it means “my”.)
舍妹 [shè mèi] my younger sister
小犬 [xiǎoquǎn] my son
小女 [xiǎonǚ] my daughter
令尊 [lìngzūn] your dad
令堂 [lìngtáng] your mom
令兄/弟/姐/妹 your siblings
令郎 [lìngláng] your son
令嫒 (令嬡) [lìng’ài] your daughter
- Mention the organization/company
敝校 [bì xiào] my school (敝originally means “broken”, but here it means “my”.)
敝公司 [bì gōngsī] my company
敝单位 (敝單位) [bì dānwèi] my department
贵校 (貴校) [guì xiào] your school (贵originally means “precious”, but here it means “your”.)
贵公司 (貴公司) [guì gōngsī] your company
贵单位 (貴單位) [guì dānwèi] your department
- Mention yourself
In a formal letter, we rarely say “我 [wǒ] I”. Instead, we say “the role”. For example, if I am writing a letter to a teacher, “I” would become “学生 (學生) [xuésheng] student”. If it’s a letter to my boss, “I” would become “职员 (職員) [zhíyuán] employee”.
C. Structure of the content:
- At the beginning: If we’re quite close to whom we are writing, we show our care at the beginning. For example,
[Hǎojiǔ bùjiàn, jìnlái kě hǎo?]
Long time no see. How are you recently?
[Jìnlái tiānqì zhuǎn liáng, __shēntǐ kě hǎo?]
It’s been cold recently. How is your health?On the other hand, if we are writing an email to a boss or a client, we introduce ourselves and get to the point instead.
- At the end:
If we address the recipient as敬启者 (敬啟者) [jìng qǐ zhě] at the beginning, we use 此致 [cǐzhì] to end the content of the letter.
A. Format: There are three formats you can use. Take敬祝 事事顺心 (敬祝 事事順心) [Jìng zhù shì shì shùnxīn] “Wish you everything goes well” for example.
- Put 敬祝 on a new line with 2 spaces (2 Chinese characters) from the left margin. And put 事事顺心 on a new line aligned to the left margin.
- Put 敬祝 at the end of the last paragraph without a period after it. And put 事事顺心 on a new line aligned to the left margin.
- Put 敬祝 事事顺心 on a new line aligned to the left margin with a space between 敬祝 and 事事顺心.
B. Words to use: We break the blessing into two parts, “to wish” and “the blessing”. And, as usual, we use different words to different people.
- “To wish”
There are many words to use, but I think it’s frustrating to learn all of them; therefore, I only list the most common ones. By the way, 敬请 is more respectful than 祝, and is more used in formal emails.
敬请 (敬請) [jìng qǐng]
- “the blessing”
(1) common blessings:
事事顺心 (事事順心) [shì shì shùnxīn] Everything goes well.
身体健康 (身體健康) [shēntǐ jiànkāng] Good health.
平安喜乐 (平安喜樂) [píng’ān xǐlè] Safe and happy.(2) Formal blessings:
大安 (大安) [dà’ān] to those being the same age as you, e.g. colleagues.
钧安 (鈞安) [jūn’ān] to those older than you or those work in politics, e.g. older colleagues, members of parliament, and politicians.
道安 (道安) [dào’ān] to those who work in schools or in an academic field, e.g. teachers, professors, and principals.
礼安 (禮安) [lǐ’ān] is used when writing a condolence letter.
A. Structure: Role → Name → To write → (Time) → (Department)
- In a paper letter
“The name” and “to write” are on the same line and there’s a space between them. Others are on different lines. Besides, each line is aligned to the right margin. “The role” is at the upper left of the name; moreover, the font size of “the role” should be decreased a bit.
- In an e-mail
“The role”, “the name” and “to write” are on the same line or different lines and there’s a space between them. Other information is on a new line. And they are all aligned to the left margin.
C. Words to use:
If I am writing a letter to a teacher, then there would be “学生 (學生) [xuésheng] student” before my name. If it’s a letter to my boss, then it would be “职员 (職員) [zhíyuán] employee”. But if it’s a letter to my friend, I can just omit this part. Additionally, if it’s a letter to my lover, it can be “爱你的 (愛你的) [ài nǐ de] the one loving you”.
- To write:
If it’s a letter to friends or family members, we can also omit this part.
上 [shàng] and 启 (啟) [qǐ] to those being the same age as you are, e.g. colleagues.
敬上 [jìng shàng] and 敬启 (敬啟) [jìng qǐ] to the elder, the boss, or those who are not close with.
In a paper letter, we put the time after the things mentioned above, while in an email, since there’s time on every email already, we can omit this part. Besides, if it’s a letter to a Chinese, note that the order is “year, month, day”.
If it’s an email sent from a business email address, then the email should be closed by some contact information, e.g. the company, the department, phone number.
E.g. A letter to a friend
E.g. A letter to a proffesor
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