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📨 How to Write Letters and Emails in French

Camille Chevalier-Karfis By Camille Chevalier-Karfis - updated on Nov 3, 2020
how to write letter in french

Today, I’m going to tell you about writing letters in French. Everything written in French tends to be more formal than in English; business letters, emails… and there are some quite archaic formulas that are still very much used nowadays.

In this “French letter guide”, I will focus on how to start and end your French letter: we use very precise salutations and closings in French letters, and some archaic expressions are still common for business letters.

French people will be forgiving if you make mistakes in the core of the text, but for example writing “ma chérie” to a friend could send the wrong message.

And choosing an inappropriate letter closing like “je vous embrasse” for a business partner would be a big faux-pas!

So let’s study how to write letters in French.

1- Common French Salutations in Letters

Before you even start writing your French letter, you need to select the correct French salutation or greeting.

a – When you don’t know who you are writing to

If you don’t know who you are writing to, start your letters by “Messieurs”.

b – other French salutations

  1. If you are addressing your letter to “le Responsable des livraisons” but you still don’t know his/her name, start your letter with “Monsieur,” (even if you don’t know whether the person is a man or a woman).
  2. If you know the name of the person, start your letter by “Monsieur X, or Madame X,”. Note that for a business letter, Mademoiselle is no longer used in writing.
  3. If you are writing to someone you know, you met, or if you are answering to someone who wrote you first, then you can start with “Cher Monsieur X,” or “Chère Madame X,” or even “Chère Mademoiselle X”. Use this French salutation you feel like being a bit more friendly, not if you are writing to complain!
  4. When writing to a friend, start with “Cher Pierre,” ” Chère Anne,” – it’s common, but still a bit formal.
  5. You can also drop the formal salutation altogether and just say hello in French: “salut Pierre”, “Coucou Anne”…

c – About “cher” in French

In the context of a salutation to start a French letter, “cher” means dear.

  1. cher + masculine singular noun = cher Pierre
  2. chère + feminine masculine noun = chère Anne
  3. chers + plural = chers Anne et Pierre
  4. chères + plural feminine only = Chers Anne et Marie

“Cher” can be followed by “Monsieur/ Madame / Mademoiselle”
Cher Monsieur,

or with “Monsieur/ Madame / Mademoiselle” + a last name
Cher Monsieur Dupont

However, I suggest you don’t write “Cher Monsieur Pierre”. This would be frowned upon in higher social classes.

d – Be careful with “Chéri” ❤️

“Chéri(e)” (do say the final “i”), is a common French love nickname for sweetie.

So, if you write “Pierre chéri”, or “mon chéri”, Pierre is going to think you are in love with him.

It’s rare nowadays to use “chéri(e)” with friends, although it was common about 50 years ago. But it has changed.

write letter in French

2- How to Close Your French Letter

A typical way to close a french business letter is “dans l’attente de vous lire, je vous….” and then you add the French closing expression.

a – French Business Letters Closing Expressions

These common closings will work for French business letters or very formal letters.

  1. For a very formal letter
    “Je vous prie d’agréer, (repeat the salutation), l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.”
    Je vous prie d’agréer, chère Madame Dupont, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.
  2. VERY formal, but you are the one providing the service or the good,
    write:
    “Je vous prie d’agréer, (repeat the salutation), l’expression de mes salutations dévouées.”
  3. A bit less formal:
    “Je vous prie d’agréer, (repeat the salutation), l’expression de mes meilleures salutations.”
  4. Still formal but you know the person – not a friend, but it’s a personal relationship, not business: 
    “Je vous prie d’agréer, (repeat the salutation), l’expression de mes sentiments distingués.” 
    For example, you are writing to the oncle of your friend, to thank him for giving you the name of a plumber. And they’re a very formal family:
    “Je vous prie d’agréer, Cher Monsieur Dupont (or even Cher Frank if you are on a first name basis), l’expression de mes sentiments distingués.”

b – Best Regards in French?

To translate ‘best regards’ in French, write:

  1. “Meilleures salutations,”
  2. “Salutations distinguées,”

note these expressions end with a comma.

c – Warm regards in French?

To say warm regards in French, write “Cordialement”. I use this one all the time.

d – Yours truly in French?

Yours truly is “Bien à vous” or “bien à toi” if you are saying “tu” to the person.

Check out French Today’s audiobook about French greetings and politeness.

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e – Personal Letters

When you are writing a pesonnal letter in French to acquaintances, or friends who are quite formal – or maybe older friends – write: 
“Amicalement,”
or “Je vous adresse toute mon amitié,” both closings meaning kind of like “warmest regards”.

f – Bisous at the end of a French letter ?

Many foreigners have been confused with a French friend ending a letter or email with bisous… Did you miss a romantic signal?

No you didn’t. Ending a French letter to a friend with “bisou” or “je t’embrasse” is very common, and not necessarily romantic!

With closer friends and family you may close your letter with:

  1. More formal :
    “Affectueusement”, “affectueuses pensées” kind of like “Fondly”,
    or “Je vous embrasse” which is “hug and kisses” but using the formal “vous”.
  2. Less formal:
    “Je t’embrasse (bien fort),”
    or “Gros bisous,”
    “Grosses bises,”
    or “Bisous,” , the equivalent of “hugs and kisses”in French
  3. Absolutely not formal:
    “Bizoux”, “bizoudou”… like 😘

Note that for all these expressions, the “vous” can also be used as a plural, and in this case may, or may not be as formal.

g – Don’t use XOXO in French

In American English, it’s very common to end a text with XOXO – meaning hugs and kisses.

The French don’t hug, and don’t know this symbol nor would they understand it.

3 – How to Write the Name on the Envelop?

You’ll write the address in the front of the envelop, pretty much the same way you’d do anywhere in the US or Europe.

For the name, you have plenty of options: so let’s take my name for example.

  1. My first name is Camille.
  2. My maiden name is Chevalier.
  3. My married name is Chevalier-Karfis (hyphenated names are not common for French people: most wives would just take their husband’s last name).
  4. My husband’s first name is Olivier.
  5. His last name is Karfis.

So you could write:

  1. Camille Chevalier-Karfis – straight and to the point – that’s the one I would use for a business kind of letter
  2. Madame Camille Chevalier-Karfis – pretty common in standard automated business letters
  3. Madame Chevalier-Karfis – that’s the one I would use if I wrote a personal letter
  4. Madame Olivier Karfis – very very old-fashioned and a tad snob. Using my husband’s first name and last name to define me… That’s the one my Mom would use…

4 – How to Label the Envelop to France?

Once you’ve taken care of the name on the envelop, write the info from the smallest to the biggest entity:

  1. start with the name (if it’s the business letter, then maybe the salutation, department, certainly the name of the company),
  2. Apartment number, po box,
  3. street number and address,
  4. zip code,
  5. town (sometimes followed by Cedex + a number in French).

Camille Chevalier-Karfis
French Today
63 rue de Goas Plat
22500 Paimpol
France

It’s my actual address: feel free to write me a letter, a postcard, or lavish me with gifts 🤣

5 – Where to Write Your Return Address?

In France, the return address is written in the back of the letter, at the very top, across the width of the letter.

However that can be confusing for your home country.

So, as a precaution, when sending a letter internationally, I always write “from” and then cross the return address, just in case (as shown on the picture of the envelope featured above)

This “from” in French would be
– “de: X”, or “de la part de: X”,
– or “expéditeur: X”

6 – 💌 How to Write a French Love Letter

If you are writing to your loved one, you may start with a French love nickname. “Ma chérie” when writing to a woman, “mon chéri” for a man are the norm.

At the end, you’ll probably say I love you in French : “je t’aime”, “je t’aime de tout mon coeur”. Click on the link to see variations.

Then you’ll probably end with some kind of kiss: here again, there are many ways to send kisses in French.
“Je t’embrasse amoureusement” is a safe one on the formal side.
“Mille bisous d’amour” is a cuter way to send kisses to your loved one.

7 – How to Write a Condoleance Letter in French

I hope you won’t have to write a condoleance letter in French.

To express your sympathy in French, the most used phrase would be:

Je vous adresse mes (sincères) condoléances
Please receive my (sincere) condolences/my sympathy.

Here are other typical examples – I won’t translate them : the words don’t translate well literally but I’m sure you’ll get the idea.

Be careful to choose the appropriate politeness formula: choosing vous or tu, and conjugating your verbs accordingly. To start and finish your letter, you’d use the regular French letter writing expressions.

  1. En ces moments difficiles, je suis désolé de ne pas pouvoir être avec toi, mais je tenais à te faire part de mes sincères condoléances.
  2. Prenant part à votre douleur, je vous présente mes sincères condoléances, à vous et à votre famille.
  3. C’est avec grande tristesse que nous avons appris le décès de… nous partageons votre peine et vous faisons part de nos sincères condoléances.
  4. Nous sommes profondément émus par ce deuil qui vous affecte. Dans cette difficile épreuve, nous vous assurons de notre amitié et vous envoyons toute notre affection.
  5. Nous vous offrons toute notre affection et notre soutien pendant ces moments difficiles. Nous pensons bien fort à vous et à votre famille et vous adressons nos condoléances les plus sincères.
  6. Je tiens à m’associer à votre peine et à vous apporter tout mon soutien en ces durs moments que la vie nous impose.

Expressing your sympathy in a little bit less formal way:

  1. C’est avec une immense tristesse que j’ai appris la mort de…. Je te présente mes condoléances les plus sincères et si tu as besoin de parler, je suis là. Tu peux toujours compter sur moi, n’hésite pas. Bien affectueusement.
  2. Un petit mot pour dire que nous pensons bien à toi et à toute ta famille dans ces moments difficiles. Je garderai un excellent souvenir de… et de sa gentillesse. Si tu veux te changer les idées et venir nous voir, ça serait avec plaisir. Gros bisous.

8 – How to Write a Thank you Note in French

Since I lived both in France and in the US, I can tell you that writing thank you notes is less frequent in France than it is in the US.

We also have a much smaller market for greeting/special occasion cards and don’t send out these too often.

In very posh families, it’s not uncommon to have a special pad made out with your name at the top, and you use that to answer invitations or send thank you notes. But it’s disappearing nowadays.

The norm would be to start your thank you note with “merci pour”… or “j’écris pour te/vous remercier pour….”. More ways of saying Thank you in French.

9 – ⚠️ Punctuation When Typing a French Letter

Some rules of punctuation used when typing out a text are different in French than in English.

  1. Un point d’exclamation ! Un point d’interrogation ? Space BEFORE and after
  2. Les deux points : un point virgule ; space BEFORE and after
  3. Une virgule,  a comma – no space before, space after
  4. Un point. A period – no space before, space after
  5. Trois petits points (also called les points de suspension)… – no space before, space after
  6. ” les guillemets ”  ouvrez les guillemets – fermez les guillemets – space after/before
  7. (les parenthèses) no space

10 – French Letter Vocabulary

Let me just list the common French letter vocabulary

  1. une enveloppe – envelop
  2. un timbre – stamp
  3. affranchir – to stamp
  4. l’expéditeur – expeditor
  5. le destinataire – recipient
  6. la poste – post office
  7. le courrier – mail
  8. la boîte aux lettres – letterbox

Voilà, I hope this article will help you next time you write a letter in French. 

I post new articles every week, so make sure you subscribe to the French Today newsletter – or follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Good luck with your French studies.

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