The Conversational Salutation Syndrome

Hi Gerald,

is not correct.  

Hi, Gerald.


Then why is it that almost everyone begins his or her e-mails with the former, incorrect salutation?  I’m guessing the traditional “Dear Gerald,” morphed into the more conversational and informal “Hi Gerald,” but it bothers me so much that i’m forced to use it when i know it’s incorrect.  I’ve seen two people opt for the “Hi, Gerald,” format, which i think is better but wrong nonetheless.  I’ve also seen two people opt for “Hi, Gerald.” which makes me really happy to see.  Ironically enough, one of those two people is my father, who, as a first-generation immigrant, speaks fairly good but limited English.  He can only understand simply constructed sentences, but his punctuation is better than the average American’s.  The English he learned in high school and college in South Korea was the proper English, with the proper punctuation and grammar.  A native English-speaker’s English is shaped by contemporary cultural and social influences, not the least of which is the Internet.  I’m sure the Conversational Salutation Syndrome, or so i like to call this little problem of ours, also has to do with how the Internet has changed our use of language.  

As for me, i resort to using the incorrectly punctuated conversational salutation because it almost seems silly to write “Dear Gerald,” which, in today’s world, sounds stuffy and too formal, like the kind of greeting you’d see on a credit card bill.  I have considered using the period to end the greeting, but then would i continue writing in the same paragraph or in a new one?  Both would look a bit odd:

Sure, it looks okay, but the period after Gerald gives the salutation a disconcerting finality.  We don’t want that kind of finality in a greeting.  That’s why salutations end with commas!  It’s supposed to flow right into the body of the letter.

The overall look is off, because we all know that the greeting should be separated from the body of the letter.  It looks rushed.  

Also, i’m not a fan of using the colon in a greeting.  Way too official.  And i only reserve the dash for handwritten notes/letters and certain handwritten or typed complimentary closings.  

So there is my e-mail salutation dilemma.  If you have any advice, please share it.  I need it badly.  And so do many others.


Filed under communication, language

8 responses to “The Conversational Salutation Syndrome

  1. L V

    I am curious what others have to say about this topic. I have a troubled relationship withmy brother and I have noticed that his last several emails have begun with the incredibly off-putting practice of writing “Hi Lori.” (quotes are mine).

    So he is just writing:

    Hi Lori.

    And then continuing with his letter. He even did this for a birthday email.

    I suppose in reading this person’s query/entry, it is possible that he thinks this is somehow more correct, but along with the cold tone of the actual notes he is writing, it is just feels so rude and harsh. (vs. simply putting a comma that I’d just not even notice … or since it’s informal email, a — would be fine.)

  2. n

    Thanks for your comment, Lori!

    I have never seen that version before, but if anyone ever addressed me like that, i’d be annoyed too! Only once have i gotten an email that started out with “Hi, N___.” It was quite disconcerting, even though it was from an administrator, because it felt so cold compared to the comma’ed salutations i’d been used to. Oh, the power of the period. Not only could your brother’s greeting be perceived as cold, whether or not he intended it or not, it’s also grammatically incorrect since he omits the comma that should come after Hi.

    By the way, the dash is a personal favorite of mine. It’s the most expressive punctuation, and when used in greetings/closings, it just feels so friendly and affectionate.

  3. Firstly, “disconcerting finality” is an awesome phrase. Had to point that out.

    Anyway, the typical greeting in an e-mail or letter is “____ name,” (unless we’re creating a formal e-mail in which case it would be “____ name:”). Apparently, it doesn’t matter what that blank is. “Dear” is typical in letters, but in e-mail people tend to avoid that. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “Dear” in an e-mail.

    So, people try to find replacements – “hey,” “hi,” “sup,” and so on. It’s just something I’ve gotten used to. Then again, I’ve gotten used to so much “grammar flexibility” on the Internet that my basic knowledge of sentence structure has been forced into a dark corner of my mind. I, personally, use the “____ name,” formula when composing an e-mail, but only if I have to. Typically, I use “Name –” because it’s much more neutral than anything else. If I must sign something, I sign it “Sincerely,” also for reasons of neutrality.

  4. n

    Ha, thanks.

    That is true, about the standardized plug-in format of “_____ name,”. It’s still grammatically wrong though when that blank is anything other than Dear or its equivalent (i.e. any adjective that modifies the name that follows the blank).

    And i, too, prefer “Name—” for its neutrality and use it for informal notes. I prefer “Best,” over “Sincerely,” though.

  5. I usually just use “name,” unless I have to use “To whom it may concern:”. I also try to avoid “Sincerely,” because it sounds too formal to me. As a matter of fact, I avoid using valediction in general when composing an email.
    Also, I’ve seen my friends using exclamation points instead of commas; for example:



    “Hi Mark!”

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  7. trw

    I think conversational salutations are best if they can represent the connection with a person.

    Now let’s see here.

    Such as:

    Dearest Paula~ (i love tildes!)
    I appreciate your sound advice the other day on the phone.
    Much love~

    (Obviously these two individuals care for one another and enjoy the close relationship currently established.)

    -Here is one more:

    Hey there Meredith. (sense of separation)

    I am curious to know how you will describe the issues regarding your house. Currently, I am debating whether I should prepare my own list of my issues regarding your house. I know that if I write mine down, then I can also write down yours when we meet. My thoughts are telling me I need to write them down because I will most likely not hear much about these concerns again. Not without a lot of discussion. Getting back to this point seems unreachable to me. You are miles and miles from where I am. Yet I keep attempting to come closer. You consistently travel in a different direction.

    I think we can work this out. I look forward to our morning beverage on Tuesday.

    See you.

    (The author does not feel as if the relationship is balanced.)

    Conversational salutations are designed to let a person know a little bit about how you feel coming into the conversation. Are you happy with the way the relationship stands. Are you presenting an issue that needs serious attention?

    Enjoyed the blog.
    Got me thinkin’.

    • n

      Haha, i’m dealing with some uncooperative and passive-aggressive behavior in my dorm room, so the letter to Meredith was both illuminating and relevant! The “morning beverage” was the best part!

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