Ok, let’s be honest here: who likes receiving formal letters – even in their native language?!
I certainly don’t and whenever I move to another country and receive one of those, even if I speak the language fluently, I’m usually like, “Huh?!” and need to read it slowly at least two or three times before I’m sure I really understand what it is they want from me.
(While living in Germany, I once got a letter that informed me that my visa had expired and I was staying in the country illegally and I’d better get my pretty face to the office soon or they’ll deport me – whoops! Better understand these letters, if you ask me!).
The thing is, administrative language is often different enough from the normal spoken language that it would almost deserve a course of its own! And writing a formal letter is often no easier than reading one.
SO! In this post, I will try to make formal letter writing in French a little more accessible to you.
Unfortunately, this post does not include the main body of the text, since I cannot provide a template that will match every situation. But just getting the frame right will be a good starter and hopefully give you some courage and confidence – so let’s get started!
How to write the date
Paris, le 3 mars 2017
Remember to always write “le” at the beginning of the date and to always write the month in letters (lowercase!) and not in numbers.
How to write the subject of the letter
This section consists of a very short sentence describing what the letter is about.
Always start with a noun (without an article at the front!)
- Demande d’extension de visa
- Inscription au cours de français
How to write “enclosed” for an attached file
Pièce jointe: xxxxxxxxx
Most official documents have a title, so look for the title to insert the appropriate name of the document here.
How to address the recipient of the letter
When you are unsure who will be reading your letter or whether the recipient is male or female, just start with “Monsieur, Madame“, this is perfectly acceptable.
If you do know who will receive your letter, it is still custom not to add the surname after “Monsieur” or “Madame“.
How to say you will gladly provide further information on request
Je reste à votre disposition pour tout renseignement complémentaire.
How to end your letter
There are various ways of ending a formal letter. It depends on the overall tone, what you said before and how you expect the recipient of the letter to take action.
Here are a few examples.
- Veuillez agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de ma considération distinguée.
- Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.
- Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués.
- En vous remerciant par avance, je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de ma considération distinguée.
- En attendant votre réponse, je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.
- Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de mes sentiments les plus sincères.
- Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de mes sentiments les meilleurs.
- Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur, Madame, l’expression de mes meilleures salutations.
The first two sentences are those most commonly used to end a formal letter. It does not really matter whether you start with “Veuillez agréer” or “Je vous prie d’agréer“. However, if you are writing a letter as a group, make sure to end your formal letter with “Nous vous prions d’agréer” and “nos salutations“.
Again, in lieu of “Monsieur, Madame” you can use either or if you know to whom the letter is sent. Do not add the person’s surname.
Finally, be sure to always write “Monsieur” and “Madame” with a capital letter throughout the letter.
What about Emails?
So glad you asked!
Well, the same rules apply for emails with the exception of:
- the date: no need to write that in the body of the email
- objet: that obviously goes in the “subject” bar of your email and you don’t have to add “objet” before stating why you are writing
- pièce jointe: no need to write it (although you can mention your attached file in the body of the email if you wish), just attach your file like you normally would.
I hope that was helpful and if you have any other questions, let me know!
I have made a cheat sheet with ready-for-use phrases for your formal letter.
Have a great day,