There is an Italian saying which applies nicely to writing emails: “Il 100% dei tentativi non fatti è perso.” (You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.)
This doesn’t mean that you should just go ahead and write an email or letter in Italian, without first taking the time to understand the proper way of doing it.
By learning the basics of Italian email etiquette, you can increase the odds that your email will make a good impression on your Italian correspondent.
This guide is divided into 2 separate parts:
Although generally easy, the process of writing an email requires us to pay attention to certain factors, especially if the language used is not our native language.
When writing an email or a letter in Italian, the first factor to take into consideration is definitely the degree of formality. Italian is a fairly formal language, so before anything else, it is necessary to ask ourselves this question: “Who is my addressee?”
Is your email for a friend or a colleague? Maybe your CEO, or doctor…or the President of the Republic, even!
When addressing someone with a medium-high level of formality, there are a few things to consider carefully.
“Well begun is half done”, they say. And it is true: the way we start an email will say much about us, so…taking the time to think of a successful and appropriate email opening will definitely make a good first impression.
While in English the most common formal greeting formula is “Dear…” in Italian there are more formal greetings to choose from. Let’s see the most common ones:« Gentile… » (Dear)
This email/letter greeting is perfect for every formal situation, and works fine for both professional/business and bureaucratic communication. Sometimes it is also used in its superlative form: gentilissimo/a.
The Italian email greeting "Gentile'' is appropriate, for example, in the following settings: work emails, cover letters, or other ordinary formal communicative situations.« Egregio/a… » (Esquire)
Extremely formal, this social hierarchy-based greeting is rarely used. However, it may be useful in very formal business communication, or when writing an email to politicians, deans, diplomats…or someone to whom we want to express particular reverence.« Spettabile… » (Messrs)
Although extremely formal, this Italian email salutation is adopted only when addressing a company, institution, or other offices. When writing to a physical person, we should choose either ‘Egregio/a’ or ‘Gentile’.« A chi di competenza… » (To whom it may concern)
It happens frequently that we don’t even know the name of our addressee. In this case, the best solution is to use the “a chi di competenza” formula. This one is mostly used for bureaucratic purposes.
For the sake of completeness, some other formal email openings, rather flamboyant and obsolete, are:
These are for extraordinary occasions and mostly used in letters, rather than emails. They clearly are a legacy of the grand and refined literary Italian past.
The formal Italian email greetings ‘Gentile’ and ‘Egregio’ are usually followed by the addressee’s job title. Although still in use, this is rather a traditional and conservative habit which is found to be controversial for some people.
Job titles are not used for each and every type of job, but only for some:
When the recipient’s job title is unknown, or it is not relevant, Italians use:
‘Signore’ and ‘Signora’ are also used when the name and surname of the addressee is unknown. In this case, they translated it to “Sir / Madam”.
The next element after the job title is the surname (or sometimes even the first name) of the addressee. When ‘Signore’ is followed by a surname or first name, the -e disappears, so it becomes ‘Signor’.
When writing emails or letters in Italian, job titles are usually replaced by acronyms.
To illustrate, let’s see some examples of email openings in Italian:
Writing a formal email in Italian also entails some grammatical adjustments.
This is because In formal writing, it is a common practice to use the «Lei» courtesy pronoun.
Just like the French pronoun «vous», or the Spanish «usted», the Italian pronoun «Lei» is used to express reverence, and it’s usually considered a sign of politeness.
Just as a reminder: this pronoun corresponds to both the English “she” and the formal “you”. In this context, we are referring to the second case.
In order to differentiate it from the “she” pronoun, the «Lei» courtesy pronoun is always written with capital ‘L’ letter.
When employing the formal «Lei» pronoun, a thorough awareness of grammatical agreements is required.
Let’s see an example:
|Gentile Prof. Rossi,
Le scrivo per ringraziarLa della disponibilità. Inoltre, in risposta alla Sua email, allego qui i documenti richiesti.
|Dear Professor Rossi, |
I am writing to you to thank you for your willingness. Moreover, in response to your email, I am attaching here the requested documents.
As shown in the example above, all the grammatical elements referring to the formal «Lei» pronoun have their first letter capitalised, even when they are inside of a word (for instance: ringraziarLa).
Once the appropriate email opening is identified, it is time to think of a suitable introduction.
The two main introduction formulas used in a formal email in Italian are:
If considered relevant, the sender’s name and surname can be followed by their job title.
Gentile Prof. Rossi,
Sono la prof.ssa Martina Esposito (...)
Dear Professor Rossi,
I’m Professor Martina Esposito (...)
It’s in this section of the email that we also explain the reasons why we are getting in touch with our addressee.
Here is a list of Italian phrases for stating the purpose of an email:
A formal email in Italian should be closed using the same level of formality maintained throughout the rest of the email. In Italian, there are quite a few formal ways to sign off:
Other useful closing phrases are:
The following is a formal email sent from a mother to her daughter’s teacher. The tone is distant, but not too much:
Gentile Prof.ssa Rossi,
Sono la Sig.ra Esposito, la mamma di Giulia. Le scrivo per fissare un appuntamento con lei per parlare dell’andamento scolastico di mia figlia.
Sarei disponibile il lunedì, il martedì, e il giovedì, dalle 14:30 alle 17:00.
La ringrazio in anticipo.
Dear Ms. Rossi,
I’m Ms. Esposito, Giulia’s mother. I’m writing to you to fix an appointment with you, to discuss my daughter’s school progress report.
I would be available on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, from 2.30 pm to 5:00 pm.
Thank you in advance.
When the addressee of our email is a friend, a relative, or someone with whom we feel we can be more informal, we can use a different set of phrases.
The tone of informal emails should display a sense of closeness and some level of intimacy. This should be made evident right from the beginning:
At times, the superlative form is used: Carissimo/a.
Even though in English both ‘Gentile’ and ‘Caro’ are translated as ‘Dear’, these two are actually very different from each other. The difference lies in the level of formality: ‘Gentile’ is a formal opening, whereas ‘Caro’ is an informal one.
Another option would be to start with a colloquial and friendly ‘Hey!’.
In informal emails, the opening lines are followed by the addressee’s name. There is no need to approach our addressee with their surname and job title. The only instance when this formula is used, can be when joking around and engaging playfully. For example: “Hey! Dear Doctor Rossi, are you available for a beer tonight?”
Similarly, in an informal Italian email, the courtesy pronoun 'Lei' is not used. The informal 'tu' pronoun is used, instead.
Some nice phrases to use in the body of an informal email in Italian could be:
The closing of an informal email in Italian can be characterised by different degrees of intimacy. It’s up to us to assess how informal our tone should be.
Some moderately informal closing formulas are:
When the relationship with our addressee is really close, we can use some more friendly options:
Come stai? Spero tu stia bene.
Sei riuscito a spostare il volo?
Ti scrivo per ringraziarti per il regalo di compleanno. Era proprio quello che desideravo…mi conosci davvero bene!
Ti mando un forte abbraccio.
Ci vediamo presto,
How are you? I hope you are doing well.
Did you manage to change your flight?
I am writing to you to thank you for the birthday gift. It’s just what I wanted…you know me very well!
Sending you a big hug.
See you soon,
In Italian, there are 3 main phrases used to inform our addressee about email attachments:
The same formulas can be used in informal emails, as long as the verbs and other grammar elements are conjugated to the second person singular (‘tu’):
The hardest part about writing an email in Italian is to understand how formal it should be. While some Italians don’t give importance to job titles or other formal elements, some others still consider them mandatory.
So, the trick is to try and understand whether your addressee belongs to the first or the second category of people, and act accordingly.
Alternatively, you could also disregard how the others expect you to act, and decide to write an email as you wish!
Editor's note: You can use our free language tool to make your own vocabulary lists, and record your own phrases.