Every educated person should know how to write a clear and readable letter. Everyone has sometimes
to write business letters of some sort, and may have to face the problem of writing an important letter
that will vitally affect his interests in life. The art of letter-writing is, therefore, no mere ornamental
accomplishment, but something that every educated person must acquire for practical reasons.
I. The Form of Letters
Letters are messages, and certain letter-forms have been established by experience and custom as the
most useful forms learned and used by every letter-writer, for neglect of them is a sign of ignorance
There are several different kinds of letters (such as friendly letters, business letters, etc.) each of which
has its own particular form ; but there are certain matters of form which apply to all, and these may
be explained first.
In all kinds of letters there are six points of form to be attended to, namely :
1. The Heading consisting of (a) the writer’s address and (b) the date.
2. The courteous Greeting or Salutation.
3. The Communication or Message—The body of the letter.
4. The Subscription, or courteous Leave-taking, or Conclusion.
5. The Signature.
6. The Superscription on the envelope.
1. The HEADING — This informs the reader where you wrote the letter, and when. The where (which should
be the writer’s full postal address) gives the address to which the reader may reply ; and the when is
for reference, as it gives him the date on which you wrote.
The position of the heading is the top right-hand corner of the first page—the address above and the
date just below it. The heading and the date may alternatively go on the left.
2. SALUTATION or Greeting — The form of Greeting will depend upon the relation in which you stand to the person to whom you are writing.
1. To members of your family, for example, it will be—
Dear Father, My dear Mother, Dear Uncle, Dear Hari, etc.
2. To friends, it will be—
Dear Shri Desai, or Dear Desai, or Dear Ramchandra, etc.
3. To business people, it will be—
Dear Sir, Dear Sirs, etc.
[Full examples will be given for each kind of letter later.]
Note: The use of the term Dear is purely formal, and is a mere polite expression, not necessarily implying any special affection.
The position of the Salutation is at the left-hand of the first page, at a lower level than the Heading.
3. The COMMUNICATION or Body of the letter — This is, of course, the letter itself, and the style in which it is written will depend upon the kind of letter you wish to write. The style of a letter to an intimate friend will be very different from that of a purely business letter or an official communication.
But a few hints that apply to all letters are given below.
(a) Divide your letter (unless it is very short) into paragraphs, to mark changes of Subject-matter, etc.
(b) Use simple and direct language and short sentences. Do not try to be eloquent, and drag in long words, just because they are long words. Be clear about what you want to say, and say it as directly
(c) Try to be complete. It is a sign of slovenly thinking when you have to add postscripts at the end of a letter. Think out what you want to say before you begin to write ; and put down your points in some logical order.
(d) Write neatly. Remember that your correspondent has to read what you write, and do not give him unnecessary trouble with bad penmanship and slovenly writing.
(e) Mind your punctuation, and put in commas and semicolons and full stops in their proper places. Incorrect punctuation may alter the whole meaning of a sentence.
4. The SUBSCRIPTION or courteous Leave-taking— A letter must not end abruptly, simply with the writer’s name. This would look rude. So certain forms of polite leave-taking are prescribed. Such as—
Yours sincerely, Your sincere friend, Yours faithfully, etc.
[Different leave-taking forms are used in different kinds of letters, and these will be given under their proper heads.]
The subscription, or Leave-taking phrase, must be written below the last words of the letter, and to the right side of the page. This is the traditional method. Note that today there is a growing tendency to place the subscription on the left side.
Note: The first word of the Subscription must begin with a capital letter ; e.g.,
5. The SIGNATURE or name of the writer — This must come below the Subscription. Thus :
In letters to strangers, the signature should be clearly written, so that the reader may know whom to
address in reply.
A woman should prefix to the name Miss or Mrs (or: Kumari or Smt) in brackets. Ms can be used by a woman who does not wish to be called Miss or Mrs.
(Mrs.) J.L. Desai
6. The address on the envelope (or postcard): The address on the envelope or postcard should be written clearly, like this:
To sum up:
In writing a letter, first write your address and under it the date in the top right-hand corner of the first page. You may alternatively write them on the left.
Then write the Salutation (e.g., Dear Shri Desai,) lower down at the left side of the page, beginning with a capital and putting a comma after it.
Next begin your letter (with a capital letter) on the next lower line, to the right of the salutation.
At the end of the letter write the Subscription, or words of leave-taking (e.g., Yours sincerely), at right/ left side of the page, with your signature below it.
6 North Usman Road
Chennai 600 017
4 October 2001
I shall be much obliged if you send me as soon as possible the books which I ordered a week ago.
II. Classification of Letters
Letters may be classified according to their different purposes. Thus :
(1) Social Letters, including Friendly Letters and Notes of Invitations.
(2) Business Letters; including Letters of Application, Letters to government officers and Letters to Newspapers. These have different characteristics which must be considered.
I. Social Letters
1. Friendly Letters
Letters to relations and intimate friends should be written in an easy, conversational style. They are really of the nature of friendly chat; and, being as a rule unpremeditated and spontaneous compositions, they are informal and free-and-easy as compared with essays. Just as in friendly talk, so in friendly letters, we can touch on many subjects and in any order we like ; and we can use colloquial expressions which would in formal essays be quite out of place. But this does not mean that we can be careless and slovenly in dashing off our letters, for it is insulting to ask a friend to decipher a badly-written, ill-composed and confused scrawl; so we must take some care and preserve some order in expressing our thoughts. Above all, it must
be remembered that, however free-and- easy may be our style, we are just as much bound by the rules of spelling, punctuation, grammar and idiom in writing a letter as we are in writing the most formal essay. Such ungrammatical expressions as “an advice” “those sort of things” and “he met my brother and I,” are no more permissible in a friendly letter than in a literary article. Mistakes in spelling, punctuation and grammar at once stamp a letter-writer as uneducated.
Forms of address — In friendly letters to relations and intimate friends, the proper form of address is the name (without title) of the person to whom you are writing, prefixed by such qualifying terms as Dear, My dear, Dearest, etc. For example :
Dear Father or Mother, Dear Brother, Dearest Sister, Dear Edward, My dear Abdul, etc.
But if you are writing to an ordinary friend who is much older than you are, or of superior rank, it is respectul to use a prefix like Mr, Mrs, Shri etc. e.g. Dear Mr Krishna Rao.
(N.B.—Students writing friendly letters to their teachers or professors, should always address them thus).
The forms of subscription are varied. The following can be used in letters to relatives and near friends :Yours
affectionately, Your affectionate (or loving) son, or brother or friend, Yours very sincerely (to friends) ; or you
can use some such form as this :
With love and best wishes,
From your affectionate friend,
In concluding letters to friends or acquaintances whom you address as “Shri or Mr ......” (e.g., My Dear Shri Durga Prasad) you should use the word sincerely or very sincerely, in the subscription ; and this may be preceded by With kind (or very kind or kindest ) regards. Thus:
With kind regards,
Note: Sincerely should not be used in letters beginning with the formal Dear Sir, after which the proper word of subcription is faithfully or truly.
To your uncle on his 70th birthday
18 Patel Road,
24 Sept. 2001
My dear Uncle,
I have just remembered that it is your birthday on Saturday and so I must send you a birthday letter at once. And I begin with the old greeting, Many happy returns of the day ! I hope the day itself will be peaceful and happy for you and that you will be spared in happiness and health to us all for years yet. You have always been a kind and generous uncle to me, and I take this opportunity of thanking you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for me. And I know all your nieces and other nephews feel the same.
I was so glad to hear from father that you are still hale and hearty, and can take your four-mile walk every day, and still play a good set of tennis.
I am sending you a book which I think you will like. You were always a great reader, and I am glad that your eyesight remains as good as ever—so father says.
I am getting on well in my business and hope to enlarge it considerably before the end of the year.
With love and best wishes,
Your loving nephew,
[From a boy in a boarding-school to his mother, telling her that he dislikes the life of a boarder.]
Pune 411 002.
24th October, 2001
I was so glad to get your letter yesterday. Thank you so much! I read it just after morning school ; but it made me feel very homesick. It seems years since I left home though it is really only about a month. It seems ages to the Christmas holidays, when I shall be able to come home. It was much nicer when I was at the day-school, and came home every afternoon.
I do hate being a boarder. I am in a big dormitory, with about twenty other boys. Some of them are all right ; but the bigger boys are always playing nasty jokes on us smaller ones ; and we daren’t say anything, or we should get a most awful licking. The master comes round to see all lights out, but all the larking goes on after he has gone; so he knows nothing about it. And I don’t like the masters.
They simply make you work all day, and cane you for every fault. Most of the boys are horrid ; but I like two or three.
Please ask Dad to put me into a day-school again. I would be much happier there.
Your loving son,
The mother’s reply
26th October, 2001
My dear Tommy,
Thank you for your letter. But I am sorry you are so unhappy at St. Dominic’s. I don’t wonder you feel rather home-sick, for it is the first time you have been away from home ; and I, too, often want you home again, my child. But you know, we can’t always have what we want in life. If I were selfish, I would keep you always at home, for I don’t like any of my children to be away ; but then how would you ever get your education and grow up to be a man able to manage your own life ? Your
father thinks that a few years at a boarding-school is necessary for all boys, to make men of them ; and he knows best.
So my dear boy, you must be brave and stick to your school. I am sure you will soon get to like it, as other boys do. Don’t mind the jokes boys play on you, and if you do, don’t let them know you do. When they see you don’t mind, they will soon get tired of teasing you. So cheer up ! and be a brave laddie.
With much love,
[To a friend in a hospital]
28th December, 2001
Dear Mela Ram,
I have only just heard from your brother that you have been ill in the hospital for the last two weeks. I am very sorry. If I had known, I should have written before. But I am glad to know that the worst is now over, and you are much better. He says he saw you the other day, and you were quite comfortable and cheery. I hope you will soon be all right, and coming out again. As soon as you can, write and let me know how you are.
Yours very sincerely,
[To a friend, about your favourite game]
18 East Road,Junglepore.
6th March, 2001
Thanks for your letter, with your praises of cricket as the finest game in the world. I don’t want to dispute that; but it is not my favourite. I have two favourite games, one for out-of-doors, and one for indoors.
For exercise and interest, I like tennis best of all outdoor games. Football and hockey are too violent to suit me ; cricket is too slow ; badminton is childish. But tennis gives you plenty of exercise ; it develops quickness of eye and limb ; and it calls your brain, your thinking power, into action. A few sets of tennis in the evening keep me physically and mentally fit.
For indoors, chess is the queen of games. I take no interest in card games ; and draughts after chess is like water after wine. People say chess is a selfish game, because only two can play at a time. Well, I don’t see that bridge is only less selfish, simply because four play instead of two. They also say it is slow. No chess-player ever says this. For an outsider it may look slow to see two men sitting silentand making a move only every few minutes. But to the two players, it is all the time intensely exciting. There is no game that so absorbs you like chess.
You will probably scoff; but I don’t mind.
Yours very sincerely,
[To a friend, describing a football match in which you were referee]
54 Khazanchi Road,
Patna 800 004.
5 Jan. 2001
Dear Devi Prasad,
My advice to those who are about to act as football referees is—Don’t! Why? Hear my sad story. We have here two local teams called the Brilliants and the Valiants. They are easily the best teams in the district and in every tournament the fight in the end is between these two. And when their blood is up, they both fight to win, by fair means or foul— mostly foul. Moreover, the town is divided into two bitterly opposed factions—Brilliants and Valiants, who roll up, to the matches to cheer and jeer, and to see “fair” play.
The game had not long begun, before I had to turn off one of the Brilliants for foul play. The team protested, the crowd roared and things looked ugly ; but I stuck to my point, and they settled down. But they were sulky. Then the Valiants scored ; and the Brilliants looked sulkier still.
But the fun began when I awarded the Valiants a penalty kick close to goal, by which they promptly scored again. Then all the Brilliants rushed on to the field, yelling and shouting, and went for me. I was jostled, struck and kicked and knocked down; and the match came to an end in free fight between the two parties.
I am sitting up, nursing my wounds, and vowing, “No more refereeing for me!”
Yours in sorrow,
[To a friend, greeting him on the occasion of the Independence Day.]
Varanasi - 221001.
10th July, 2002
I hope this letter finds you in the best of spirits. It’s time we exchanged greetings, for our nations will soon be celebrating the fifty-fifth Independence Day. My friends and I of Himalayan Academy, Rajganj would like to express our spirit of brotherhood and oneness on the occasion of the Independence Day.
May the internal and communal disturbances give way to religious tolerance, harmony and space. Since you are in a residential school, I suppose we will be celebrating it with a sense of patriotic discipline.
Let’s nourish the spirit of Solidarity for now and all times to come.
Your loving friend,
[Reply to the above]
18th July, 2002
It was wonderful to see your letter in my mail box. As you rightly said, the future month August will soon see us marching for the Independence Day parade in our school as well as on the streets leading to the Governor’s House.
The rehearsal session has started and we have little time to spare for other activities. Truly we have to motivate our little ones with patriotic favour and enthusiasm. Our country has withstood external aggressions and internal conflicts. We need to stand united in all such circumstances. I’m grateful to
you for kindling the spirit of an ideal child as we would all be tomorrow’s citizens.
Hope Martha is fine. I conclude this letter like a typical citizen of an honourable country.
[To a friend, arranging for an excursion together]
5 Railway Road,
15th May, 2001
We both have a holiday next Monday. What do you say to a trip to Murree and a ramble in the gullies? We could start early, say 6 a.m., in my car, and take some grub with us, and make a day of it up in the cool. It would be a change from this heat down here. If you agree, I will arrange the picnic, and be round at your house at quarter to six on Monday morning. Bring your camera with you.
16th May, 2001
Many thanks for your invitation. I shall be delighted to go, and shall be ready for you at 5-45 a.m., next Monday. A day in Murree will be a grand change. Yes, I’ll bring my camera, and hope to get some good snapshots.
[Reply, regretting inability to join]
16th May, 2001
It is awfully good of you to propose a day’s picnic at Murree. I only wish I could join you as I am sick of this heat. But I am sorry to say I shall not be able to get away, as I have already promised to see a friend in Jhelum next Monday. Thanks all the same.
Yours very sincerely,
[Write a letter of introduction for a friend to take to another friend who lives in a different part of the country. Say why you think each will enjoy knowing the other.]
5 Armernian Lane,
Kolkata 700 005.
7th February, 2001
My dear Haider Ali,
You have often heard me speak of my friend, Abdul Latif, who is a barrister here. He is an old friend of mine, and one for whom I have a great admiration. Well, he is going to Mumbai in a few days and will probably make a fairly long stay there. And as I want you two to meet and get to know each other, I am giving him this letter for you as an introduction. I am sure you will do your best to make his stay in Mumbai happy. At first you will do it for my sake ; but in the end you will do it for his also. For I know you will like him and both of you will find you have many interests in common.
Abdul Latif is, like you, very interested in social reform of all kinds. He also makes Islamic history a hobby, as you do. And, perhaps above all, he plays chess ; and you are a chess enthusiast. He is also a good tennis-player. So you should get on well together.
I hope you have got rid of your cold, and are keeping quite well.
Yours very sincerely,
[To your sister/friend about a real or imaginary flight in a space shuttle]
FIIT, New Delhi.
28th Feb. 2000
I am delighted to know that you are going to do a project on Space Voyages. The other day, my teacher Shalini asked us to go on a Phantasy flight in a space shuttle to Venus.
Well, as advised by the NASA scientists, we did not eat anything in the first place. Before we went off into space we went through a rigorous 14-day training programme developed by the engineers of Russian Space Agency and tour operator Space Adventures. We also underwent an extensive medical examination and training on the Soyuz Simulator.
The first space traveller was Dennis Tito from the United States. Well, dear, fancying a holiday in space costs quite a fortune: twenty million United States dollars and a 14-day rigorous training programme.
Since one needs to wear a spacesuit. I had to bear the the heaviness of it with an oxygen cylinder and a mask. Added to the mask were helmets. The garment is designed to allow an astronaut to survive in space. However, there I enriched my vocabulary, by prefixing everything to ‘space’. Space telescope, space time, space travel and space vehicle were perhaps some of the words which I learnt
and I will be explaining the terms at length at a later date.
In short, I travelled in a space shuttle which is a rocket launched space craft able to land like anunpowered aircraft, used to make repeated journeys between the earth and the space station.
More in my next letter.
[From a boy to his friend who has met with an accident]
1st April, 2001
My dear Ahmad,
Razak told me this morning that you had been knocked off your bicycle by a tonga yesterday and badly hurt. I am awfully sorry ; but I hope it is not really as bad as Razak made out. If you can write, please let me know how you are. Those tongawallas are awfully careless beggars. I had a nasty spill myself a few weeks ago in the same way. Happily no bones were broken. Mind you let me know how
you are getting on.
[To a school fellow who has been absent from school for a week.]
16th February, 2001
What is the matter with you ? You have not been at school for a week, and the Headmaster is asking where you are and what you are up to. I hope you are not ill. Please write, and say when you are coming back.
You missed the football match against the Mission School last Monday, and I can tell you the Captain was jolly cross when he found you were not there. Salim took your place. However, in spite of your absence, we won by two goals to one.
I hope you will soon be back again.
[To the Subdivisional Officer Seeking for a Telephone Connection]
G-114 B, Lajpat Nagar,
The Sub Divisional Officer,
The Mahanagar Telecommunication Network Limited
I am a resident of Vikas Apartments at Lajpat Nagar, New Delhi. I am a new inhabitant of this region. I would be extremely grateful if you could kindly consider my application for installation of a new telephone connection as early as possible. Since I am a doctor by profession serving at the Indra Prastha Apollo Hospitals, I need the telephone connection urgently. My profession falls under
the ESMA category (Essential Services Maintenance Act) which is of prime importance.
(Dr. Aman Pandit)
8th March, 2001