German culture For Members

EXPLAINED: How to write a formal letter in Germany

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How to write a formal letter in Germany
A woman composes a letter on a laptop. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Acer Computer GmbH | Acer Computer GmbH

When living in Germany, there are plenty of situations where you might have to send a formal letter or email. Here's how to compose one with confidence.


Sending formal letters and emails is a necessary part of German life, whether you need to contact your bank manager to sort out your finances, hire the services of a lawyer or accountant, or deal with a bureaucratic problem such as a visa application. 

While these kinds of communication become second-nature in our mother tongue, it can be tricky to navigate the pleasantries and formalities in another language. Every culture has its own way of being polite in formal situations - and Germany is no exception.


Nevertheless, once you understand the basics of putting together a formal letter in Germany, you should be able to fire them off quickly and with ease.

So whether you're writing to a real estate agent, lawyer or public official, here's a step-by-step guide to composing a formal letter or email in German.


First thing's first: how do you open your letter in a way that sounds adequately respectful? Luckily, the options aren't too wide here. In almost all cases, a formal letter will use one of the following:

  • Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren

Literally "dear ladies and gentlemen". This is a good alternative to "dear sir or madam" or the English "to whom it may concern" if you do not know the name or gender of the person you are writing to. Though "sehr geehrte" can be roughly translated as dear, it's a far more formal version of the casual and friendly "liebe" and can also mean "honoured" or "esteemed". 

READ ALSO: Tip of the week: Everything you need to know about sending mail in Germany

  • Sehr geehrte(r) Frau / Herr / Dr, etc. 

This is the best option to use if you know the name of the person you are addressing.

Be aware that Germans address each other by their second names and titles in formal settings, so if you're writing to a professor at university, you would say: "Sehr geehrte Prof. Flink" rather than "Sehr geehrte Greta".

Another option for starting an official letter in a slightly less formal way would be to open with a simple "Guten Tag" (good day) followed by the name of the person you are writing to. This can be a good option for digital communications like emails where it doesn't always feel right to use the most highfalutin language possible.

A woman writes an email on a laptop.

A woman writes an email on a laptop. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Franziska Gabbert

Forms of address

When writing a formal letter or email, be sure to use the polite "Sie" and "Ihnen" forms of "you".

Germans love their academic titles and accolades, so it's also a good idea to include these: Dr. and Prof. are the most common ones. 

Opening Sentence

One good thing to know about writing formally in German is that it's perfectly okay to be brief and to the point. If your letter is intended for a simple purpose, like requesting a new tax number or cancelling a contract, you can simply start with the word "hiermit" (with this) or "mit diesem Schreiben" (with this letter) followed by the purpose of your letter.

For example:

Hiermit kündige ich meinen Vertrag mit sofortiger Wirkung. 

I hereby terminate my contract with immediate effect.

Mit diesem Schrieben möchte ich Ihnen mitteilen, dass... 

With this letter I would like to inform you that...

Another good way to open a formal letter is to simply tell them what you are writing about or who your letter is on behalf of.

Ich schreibe Ihnen bezüglich...

I am writing to you concerning... 

Ich schreibe Ihnen im Namens... 

Ich am writing to you on behalf of... 

Cover letters for job applications tend to be a slight exception to this rule. In this type of letter, you can afford to be more enthusiastic and expressive in your opening. A good catch-all is to discuss where you saw the application and indicate your excitement to be applying for the role:

Mit großem Interesse habe ich Ihre Anzeige gelesen und würde mich gerne um die Stelle als ... bewerben.

I read your advertisement with great interest and would like to apply for the position of...

READ ALSO: Working in Germany: How to write the perfect cover letter in English



Once you've introduced the purpose of your letter, you can generally follow similar rules to English-language formal letters - while also remembering your Sie and Ihnen, of course! 

Try to explain your situation or request clearly and concisely, but also include all relevant information, such as dates, reference numbers and necessary background. 

Remember that when making polite requests or expressing possibilities, the subjunctive - or Konjunktiv II as it's known in German - is your friend.

This is when you use words like könnte (could), sollte (should), möchte (would like), wollte (wanted to), dürfte (might) when expressing imagined wishes or options. It's a good way to make your letter sound more courteous and soften any requests you have, such as applying for a deadline extension with the tax office or requesting an additional loan. Just be careful not too sound unsure of yourself: confidence and directness are often appreciated in business or work situations. 

A man works on a desktop computer.

A man works on a desktop computer in an office. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Hendrik Kuhlmann | Hendrik Kuhlmann

You should also take care to avoid words and phrases that sound more Umgangssprachlich - or  colloquial. Just as you wouldn't call something "totally awesome" in a formal letter in your native tongue, phrases like "total geil" or "mega toll" will sound very out of place in a letter to your bank manager. 

In other cases, it will take a bit of Feingefühl - or sensitivity - to pick the more elegant or formal word for the context. One example would be using "bekommen" - rather than "kriegen" - as the more high-register form of "to get". 

This may sound a bit daunting, but you'll soon get used to the style - especially if you have a native speaker who can check over your letters afterwards and alert you to any strange choices of words. The rule of thumb here is that if it sounds too relaxed and conversational, it's probably not suitable for formal prose. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Umgangssprache


Signing Off 

Just like with openings, there are multiple potential ways to sign off a formal letter or email in a polite way. 

However, there's no need to over-complicate things. Sometimes a simple, generic phrase is the best way to keep it both pleasant and concise. 

The following tend to be good catch-all phrases that can be used in almost any context: 

Danke für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit.

Thank you for your attention.

Ich freue mich auf Ihre Rückmeldung. 

I'm looking forward to your reply.

Vielen Dank im Voraus für die Unterstützung.

Many thanks in advance for your support.

Für Fragen stehe ich Ihnen gerne zur Verfügung.

I'll gladly answer any questions you have. 

Mixing and matching any of the above is a good way to conclude your letter before signing off with the following:

Mit freundlichen Grüßen
Yours sincerely / With kind regards

If you follow this structure carefully, composing a formal letter in German will soon become second-nature, just as it is in your native language.

And finally: don't worry about making a few small errors at first. Even Germans make mistakes at times, and every letter you send is likely to be better than the last. 




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