For globalized companies, emails are the first communication tool, both between employees and with suppliers and customers. English is the universal language of communication, but the formal, layout and substantive standards relating to English vary depending on the country of residence of the person with whom we communicate.

To be clear, British, American, Australian and South African English are very similar, but also very different. We limit our field of investigation to the two ‘English languages’ most used in international business and analyze the main characteristics and differences that we may encounter when writing emails in British English and American English.

How to open an email in British and American English

Email opening greetings, such as “Dear Alex”, “Dear all”, “Dear Sir or Madam”, etc., are basically the same in British and American emails. The most common differences concern punctuation. In American English, a period is required after abbreviated titles (“Dear Mr. Smith”, “Dear Ms. Smith”, “Dear Dr. Smith”, “Dear Mrs. Smith”). Although some people in the UK also do this, it is not strictly correct in British English because the missing letters do not come from the end of the word. This means that titles must be written without a period (“Dear Mr Smith”, “Dear Ms Smith”, “Dear Dr Smith”, “Dear Mrs Smith”) in British English.

Americans sometimes use a colon after the opening greeting (“Dear Alex:”), which is rare in the UK.

Similarly, both Americans and British tend to use “Dear Sir or Madam” or “Dear Sir/Madam” when they don’t know someone’s name, but Americans sometimes use the more traditional forms “Dear Sir” or ” Dear Sirs”, which are generally considered too old-fashioned, not to mention sexist, in the UK.

Opening sentences

After the greetings, let’s look at the opening sentences used in writing emails in British and American English. The most common ones, such as: “Thank you for your email on…”, “I’m writing to you on…”, “I hope you had a good weekend”, are used a lot in Great Britain as much as in the United States. However, as one might expect, there are also just as many differences and therefore phrases that we will only find in American emails and never in English ones.

For example, among the friendliest phrases to break the ice is the classic “How are you?”, which in American English translates to “How are you doing?”. If you are tempted to use “What’s up?”, an even more informal version of ‘how are you’, know that you can only do it in American English emails. In British English, in fact, “What’s up” has a very different meaning than “What’s wrong?” and is therefore not suitable for emails. More informal versions of “How are you?” in British English they include “How’s it going?” and “How are things?”.

Two general differences between British English emails and American English emails

Message length

Emails sent by American companies tend to use an upbeat tone and direct language. In contrast, British emails are typically longer and force customers to work a little harder to find the call to action.

Write in full

As mentioned, American emails tend to be shorter than those from the UK. What may be surprising is that this actually applies to the length of words used in American and British emails! While it’s not uncommon to see an American marketing email use abbreviated language like “OMG” or “FTW”, this is actually rare in marketing emails from the UK.

Do you need a translation into British or American English? In both cases, LingoYou takes care of it

LingoYou is the translation agency that puts you in touch with the world. Thanks to our team of expert translators, we can offer you a fast and efficient British English translation service.

Marketing Team LingoYou

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