Years ago, before this site existed, I asked a question about the phrase "Dear Sir or Madam" on English Language & Usage SE. Yesterday, I got a new comment:

"Dear Sir or Madam" and "Dear Sir/Madam" are binarist and therefore problematic. Not everyone is comfortable being called "Sir" or "Madam".


What is the non-gender-specific equivalent of "Dear Sir or Madam" for a letter salutation, if any? Or, should I ignore the whole issue as well as the advice given by the answers to my original question, and just use "To Whom it May Concern" instead?

For the purposes of this question, assume that the recipient's name, position and other information which could be used in the salutation are not known.

  • 1
    I believe these terms exist, but the problem is that they aren't widely used by the general public (as far as I know). In an effort to avoid making some people "uncomfortable", you will possibly confuse or offend others. – Em. Jul 5 '17 at 20:44
  • Even "Dear" can imply an unwarranted degree of intimacy. It always sounds out of place at the top of a letter that concerns an order of widgets. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jul 5 '17 at 22:12
  • Among Quakers, we have an in-group pronoun that's gender neutral that we frequently use. Dear Friend, ... – SamBC Feb 21 '19 at 13:41

I've been dealing with this issue as an editor since 1972, and my current preference is to omit the opening salutation altogether and begin the letter with its content (after the return address, date and inside address, obviously). The opening salutation, especially when the name of the recipient is unknown, has become effectively obsolete. "To whom it may concern" is now so trite and dated that it is the first thing I cross out when editing for business and education. The first sentence should state who you are and what you want. If it doesn't, it is unlikely your recipient will continue reading.


Since (young) people these days seem to use "Hello" and "Hi" instead of "Dear" in the opening salutation, together with a very wide range of name-formats and punctuation-marks, I think it makes sense to use those words with no name at all as well, thus:


Personally, I've always dreamed of writing a book entitled "'Hey!' is for horses, 'Hello!' is for sailors, and 'Dear' is for correspondence". But I know that I'd be fighting a battle so losing that no one would even show up to fight.

Just say "Hello:".

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