How to Write a Letter in German: Format and Language

German mailbox
Getty Images/Stefan Ziese

Aside from official documentation or for those few older relatives who may not have internet access, most people these days depend on e-mail for written communication. Taking this into consideration, the following information may be used for either traditional letters, postcards or e-mail.

The most important aspect of letter-writing in German is to determine whether it will be a formal or casual letter. In German, there are far more stipulations when writing a formal letter. Not adhering to these formalities, you risk sounding rude and impertinent. So please keep the following in mind when writing a letter.

Opening Greeting 

These standard formal greetings can be used for business correspondence or with anyone with whom you would normally address as Sie.

Formal

  • Sehr geehrter Herr….,
  • Sehr geehrte Frau...,
  • Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

If you are writing to someone with a professional title such as a doctor or a lawyer, then include it in the opening greeting:

  • Sehr geehrte Frau Rechtsanwältin Neubauer
  • Sehr geehrter Herr Doktor Schmidt

Casual

  • Lieber…., (This is the equivalent to "dear" and used only for close male relatives or friends.
  • Liebe……., (Same thing as above, except used for females.)

Unlike English, the word that follows your greeting begins with a small letter.

Liebe Maria,
ich bin so froh…

Note

The more modern way is to end the greeting in a comma, however, you may come across the old-fashioned pre-computer/e-mail way of putting an exclamation point at the end of the greeting: Liebe Maria!

Personal Pronouns

It is extremely important to choose the appropriate personal pronoun. By not doing so, you may sound impolite. For a formal letter, you will address the person as Sie, with the obligatory capital S at all times (other forms are Ihr and Ihnen) Otherwise, for a close friend or relative, you will address them as du.​

Note

If you by chance peruse books on letter-writing published before 2005, you will notice that du, dir and ​dich are capitalized as well. That's the former rule prior to die neue Rechtschreibungsreform when all personal pronouns used for addressing someone in a letter were capitalized.

Letter Body

These sentences may be helpful as you compose your letter: 

Ich weiß, dass ich schon lange nicht geschrieben habe…
I know that I haven't written in a long time...
Ich war so beschäftigt in letzter Zeit,...
I was so busy lately...
Vielen Dank für deinen Brief. Ich habe mich sehr darüber gefreut.
Thank you very much for your letter. I was very happy to receive it.
Ich hoffe, dass Sie einen herrlichen Sommer verbracht haben.
Ich hoffe, dass du einen herrlichen Sommer verbrachst hast.
I hope you've had a wonderful summer.
Ich hoffe, dass du dich besser fühlst.
Ich hoffe, dass Sie sich besser fühlen.
I hope you are feeling better.
Mein Freund hat mir deine/Ihre E-mail Adresse gegeben.
My friend gave me your e-mail address.
Ich würde gerne wissen...
I would like to know.
Es freut mich sehr zu hören, dass ...
I'm glad to hear that...
Vielen Dank für deine/Ihre schnelle Rückantwort.
Thank you very much for your quick response.

Concluding the Letter

Unlike in English, there is no comma after a concluding expression in German.

  • Gruß Helga

As in English, your name can be preceded by a possessive adjective:

  • Gruß
  • Dein Uwe

You can use:

  • Dein(e) -> if you are close to this person. Deine if you are female
  • Ihr(e) -> if you have a formal relationship with the person. Ihre if you are female.

Some other concluding expressions include: 

Casual

  • Grüße aus ...(city where you're from)
  • Viele Grüße
  • Liebe Grüße
  • Viele Grüße und Küsse
  • Alles Liebe
  • Ciau (more for E-mail, postcards)
  • Mach's gut (E-mail, postcards)

Formal

  • Mit besten Grüßen
  • Mit herzlichen Grüßen
  • Freundliche Grüße
  • Mit freundlichem Gruß

Tip

Avoid writing Hochachtungsvoll or any form thereof—it sounds very old-fashioned and stilted.

E-mail Lingo

Some people love it; others despise it. Either way, e-mail jargon is here to stay and helpful to know. Here are a few of the most common German ones.

  • mfg - Mit freundlichen Grüßen
  • vg - Viele Grüße
  • ld - Lieb' Dich
  • lg - Liebe Grüße
  • gn8 - Gute Nacht
  • hdl - Hab dich lieb

On the Envelope

All names, whether it be people or a business should be addressed in the accusative. That's because you are either writing it "An (to)…." someone or it is simply implied.

  • An Frau/Herr…
  • Frau/Herrn…
  • An die Firma (company)...