How to write an email in German: the complete guide

The German author J.W. Von Goethe wrote: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.

In German, the original wording is: “Es ist nicht genug zu wissen, man muß es auch anwenden; es ist nicht genug zu wollen, man muß es auch tun.

Knowledge about writing emails or letters in German - this is what this guide will teach you. It can then be applied to writing your own correspondences in German.

In the first part of this guide, German email and letter writing etiquette will be covered, together with plenty of examples of opening and sign-off phrases.

In the second part, specific types of correspondence in German will be explained:

Finally, the last part contains a complete example of a German email / letter.

How do you start an email or a letter in German?

A bit of terminology: In German, the greeting or salutation at the beginning of a email or a letter is called the “Anrede”.

There are some key differences between how you start an email (or a letter) in German and how it is done in English.

The following example show the beginning of a German email addressed to a potential client:

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

mein Name ist Max Mustermann und ich …

Translation:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

My name is Max Mustermann and I …

Notice that while in German as in English there is a comma after the greeting, the difference is that the Anrede is conceived of as continuous with the first full sentence of the letter.

Therefore, in many cases a lower-case letter is following and no capital letter.

This holds true for any kind of German letter or email – no matter whether it is formal or informal.

German email / letter openings for formal correspondences

When the recipient of your German email or letter is unknown to you, one of the following greetings can be used. The first one is the most formal.

There are also many cases in which your correspondent is known to you by name. Wishing to keep it formal, you can apply the same words:

(To address a male recipient, for example Mr Müller, simply change the gender of “geehrte” to “geehrter”.)

If you are in a situation in which your business relation is already well established and thus grown intimate in that sense, then you may write:

All these are recommended if you are writing a formal email or letter. Just pick the best fit for your relationship with the correspondent.

However, independent of how well you and your business partner get along, be sure to avoid the formal address “Guten Tag Fräulein Müller”.

The German ‘Fräulein’ (in contrast to ‘Frau’) corresponds to the English ‘Miss’ (in contrast to ‘Mrs’). But just as in English ‘Ms’ has been adopted, ‘Frau’ has prevailed in German as a neutral address.

German email / letter openings for casual correspondences

The German greeting “Hallo” is probably the most neutral way to start a letter or email.

Accordingly, it may also be used to address a friend or even your partner. This German greeting does not decline according to the gender of the recipient. For example:

If the person writing the message has a closer and more private relationship with the recipient, it is suitable to use a more intimate German greeting such as:

These German greetings decline according to the gender of the recipient. For a male recipient they are:

Being more precise is similarly indicative of more intimacy in this context. Compare, for instance, the following two German greetings:

Also, all these ways of starting an informal letter may also be emphasized through the use of an exclamation mark:

To be sure, the enthusiasm thus implied is not always appropriate; but when you and your correspondent have not been in touch for a long time, it is.

A word on grammar: As soon as your address involves more than two words, then you must put a comma. For instance:

How to end an email or letter in German

Having treated the Anrede (greeting), let us discuss how to properly sign off a German letter or email.

This is to discuss the “Grußformel” (closing). Just like with the Anrede, it is peculiarly distinct in terms of punctuation.

Consider the following standard Grußformel typical of a formal letter:

Mit freundlichen Grüßen

Max Mustermann

Translation:

Kind regards,

Max Mustermann

Notice that in German there is no comma between the Grußformel and the name by which you sign off. Only spacing separates the one from the other.

This holds true for any kind of letter or email – no matter if formal or informal!

How do you end a formal email or letter in German?

A bit of terminology: the German word “Grußformel” means “complimentary close” or “sign-off” in the context of writing a letter.

Grußformel” is a compound word, combining the word “Gruß” (greetings, salutations) and “formel” (which means “form” or “formula”).

There are a handful of close variants to the standard Grußformel (closing) of a formal letter or email. These are:

All three translate to “Kind regards” in English - but they are more formal in German. The first is easily the most frequent but the others are equally suited for ending a formal letter or email in German.

If you wish to sign off your German email in a slightly less formal way, the one of the following phrases can be used

These German sign-off phrases are suitable when you and your correspondent know each other already and get along quite well.

Notice however that sign-off (1) is obviously derived from English. So if you wish to sound as German as possible, you will prefer sign-off (2).

Finally, it is recommended to avoid using the following German sign-offs:

Hochachtungsvoll” is a German sign-off that has an outdated flavor. Think of it as the written equivalent to curtsying (that old fashioned gesture of bending a knee while bowing the head)

Concerning the other German sign-off to avoid, “Mit verbindlichen Grüßen”, the negative aspect of ‘verbindlich’ (‘I am bound to greet you’) is today more readily understood than its positive aspect (‘I happily bind myself to greet you’).

How do you end a casual email / letter in German?

To end a casual German email (or letter), written to a friend or partner for instance, there are a number of different sign-offs which can be used.

Below is a list of intimate and casual German sign-off phrases:

Other useful German email phrases

In what follows we share tips on how to use phrases,

You in German (Du and Sie)

As in many other European languages, German has a formal “you” pronoun (“Sie”) as well as an informal “you” pronoun (“du”). Although both translate into the English word “you”, the distinction is important.

But the rules are straightforward. If you are writing a formal letter or email, then you will always use the formal “Sie” pronoun.

Asking formally for further information, for example, you may write:

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

vielen Dank für Ihre Nachricht. Können Sie mir weitere Informationen zukommen lassen?

Translation:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your message. Could you send me further information?

By contrast, if you write an informal letter to a friend or to your partner, using “du” is the right choice.

Liebe Kathrin,

vielen Dank für deine Nachricht. Ich freue mich, dass du dich wohlfühlst.

Translation:

Dear Kathrin,

Thank you for your message. I am happy that you are well.

Notice: If you really want to express your private affection for the other, you may even capitalize the pronoun ‘Du’ and its respective forms (e.g., ‘Deine’, ‘Dich’)

vielen Dank für Deine Nachricht. Ich freue mich, dass Du Dich wohlfühlst.

Translation:

Thank you for your message. I am happy that you are well.

However, this holds only for informal German letters, emails, or short messages with a specific person in mind. In all other cases, you should opt for ‘du’, ‘dich’ etc.

German phrases for letting the recipient know about an attachment

Formal correspondences often include attachments (separate files or documents, which are sent along with a letter or an email)

It is customary to mention the attachment in the message, to ensure that the recipient is aware of it.

In German, letting the recipient know that an email contains an attachment can be done with a phrase such as:

Each of these phrases corresponds to the English phrase Please, find attached …

The last option employing “Anbei” may be considered somewhat outdated.

Using a ‘post scriptum’ in a German message

In contrast with the attachment, the post scriptum is more likely to be used in casual exchanges. It is meant to add something as an afterthought to the message.

Therefore, the postscript is rightly placed at the very end after the letter’s signature. Often it speaks of something entirely new.

(It may even be very witty and leave a smile on the reader’s face.)

For example:

Hallo Kathrin,

ich danke dir für deine Nachricht und melde mich bald bei dir.

Liebe Grüße

Thomas

PS: Die Katze war schon wieder auf der Matte!

Translation:

Hello Kathrin,

Thank you very much for your message. I’ll get in touch soon.

Yours,

Thomas

PS The cat has been on the mat yet again!

Specific types of German letters

How to formally say thank you in a letter or email

A common purpose of writing a letter or an email is to respond to and to thank the recipient for their letter or something else you have received from them.

In a formal German correspondence, thanking the recipient can be done with the following formulation:

Hallo Frau Müller,

herzlichen Dank für Ihre Nachricht!

Translation:

Dear Ms Müller,

Thank you very much for your message!

Here is another way to thank the recipient in a formal German letter or email:

Sehr geehrter Herr Müller,

ich danke Ihnen vielmals für Ihren Brief.

Translation:

Dear Mr Müller,

Thank you very much for your letter.

How to write a postcard in German

Writing a postcard in German is straightforward: it can include a greeting, a brief update on how you are doing and where you are.

Here is an example of a postcard written in German:

Liebe Kathrin!

Ich sende schöne Grüße aus Italien.

Mir geht es gut, aber das Wetter könnte besser sein.

Bis bald

Thomas

Translation:

Dear Kathrin!

With greetings from Italy.

I am fine, but the weather could be better.

See you soon,

Thomas

“Bis bald”, which means “See you soon”, is a useful sign-off when writing a postcard in German.

How to write a birthday card in German

The greeting for a German birthday card typically uses the word “lieber” if the recipient is male or “liebe” if the recipient is female, followed by the recipient’s first name. For example:

Then one of the following German phrases can be used to wish the recipient a happy birthday:

These German birthday phrases are rather idiomatic and difficult to translate. But notice the occurrence of words we have already encountered: “Grüße”, “sende”, “herzlich”.

Notice also that to capitalize your address (Dir) and to use an exclamation mark is in this context very appropriate.

What do you write in a German wedding card?

When writing a wedding card in German, people often wonder how to address both newlyweds, when you are friends with only one of them.

Addressing both would entail an awkward mix of informal language (the “du” pronoun for your friend) and formal language (the “Sie” pronoun for the partner).

A solution to this is simply greeting your friend and expressly including his or her spouse. For example:

Liebe Kathrin,

ich wünsche Dir und deinem Ehemann von Herzen alles Gute!

(Hard to translate: “Ehemann” = husband, “von Herzen” = cordially)

Lieber Thomas,

ich wünsche Deiner Ehefrau und Dir zur Hochzeit alles Liebe!

(“Ehefrau” = wife, “alles Liebe” = all the best)

Complete German email / letter example

Below we will see a full example of an email / letter written in German.

Its topic is the first formal address to an unknown correspondent (e.g., a potential client). Its purpose is to introduce yourself and ask for an exchange to be established.

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren,

mein Name ist Max Mustermann, ich bin [age] Jahre alt und arbeite für die Firma [name of enterprise].

Ich schreibe Ihnen aus Interesse an neuen Kontakten zum Austausch von innovativen Konzepten und Ideen.

Als Anlage schicke ich Ihnen unsere Informationsbroschüre.

Ich freue mich auf Ihre Rückmeldung!

Vielen Dank im Voraus und freundliche Grüße

Max Mustermann

Translation:

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

My name is Max Mustermann. I am [age] years old, and I am working for [name of firm].

I am contacting you because we are interested in forming new relations and to exchange innovative concepts and ideas.

Please find attached our info brochure.

I am looking forward to hearing from you!

Thank you in advance and kind regards,

Max Mustermann

Notice the following useful phrases which appear in this German email example :

Conclusion

By way of conclusion let us recall the two things, which are arguably most peculiar about German letter and email writing.

Everything else is a question of mastering the language and of vocabulary.