I know that in a salutation, it's preferable to use Dear Mr/Ms/Mrs 'last name'

Is it correct to use Hi "last name" in official email?

I am trying not to be too formal but I was told that it's not proper English.

  • 4
    Last names are rarely used unaccompanied (at least in modern usage). Last names are generally used with a title (Mr/Mrs, etc) or with a first name (sometimes also with a title). Last name by itself is sometimes used as a "nickname" especially by men in groups like a sports team, fraternity, etc. This is sometimes because another person already has that same first name. Historically, some professions were traditionally referred to by their bare last name (e.g. butlers, gardeners), but this has almost entirely disappeared – eques Jan 8 '15 at 18:23

If you want to use their last name, you should continue to include 'Mr', 'Ms', or 'Mrs' as appropriate. "Hi" is rather informal so keep "Hello" in mind as an alternative. Of course if you really don't need to be formal you can just address them by their first name.

Hello, Mr. [LastName]. <- Most formal of these options (Probably best for official email)

Hi, Ms. [LastName].

Hi, [FirstName]. <- Least formal.

For grammar purposes: A last name should usually have either the person's title (Dr, Prof, etc) or the honorific (Mr, Ms, etc). The title takes precedence.

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    In an ongoing correspondence, check the manner in which the person refers to him/herself. If they end with Mr./Ms.[FirstName LastName], continue using Mr./Ms.[LastName] - if they use only [FirstName LastName], it's OK to address them "Hi,[FirstName],". – Oldbag Jan 8 '15 at 18:02
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    Oh no, be careful here: when someones signs with [FirstName LastName], that's exactly when you should not reply with "Hi [FirstName]". Use the first name when it was implicitly offered by signing with [FirstName]! – Stephie Jan 8 '15 at 20:57

In official email, best practice is to use same level of formality that everybody else is using. So it might be only first name(s) even without "hi", like: "John, Paul, George,".

So in responding to email addressed to you as "Hi ," - respond the same. Please note that there is a comma after name, but next line starts new sentence.

When responding to email "Dear Mr ," you respond the same.

If you are sending first email, a way to circumvent improper level of formality could be to start email with "Good morning," and start new sentence on the next line. "Dear all," is also common, but feels impersonal.

If not sure, use more formal "Dear Mr X," if you know the name of the person you try to contact, and switch to less formal in next round to mirror the response.

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In official email, I would stick with "Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr [Lastname]," or "Hello, Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr [Lastname]," and only use "Hi, Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr [Lastname]" after making sure it is not too informal. For example, a World of Warcraft GM could say "Hi" and that's fine. An email from an insurance company should only use "Hello" (because being informal there can suggest an "informal" (i.e., sloppy!) approach to your insurance!). A tech company, it would depend; if it's a response to a complaint, then be more formal and helpful, or people may become concerned that you are not taking their complaint seriously, and feel they are being disrespected.

If you're working for someone else, see if they have a template for what kind of address they want you to use in official emails.

I also agree with Stephie in the comments above: only use [firstname] if that is the only thing they have used in their own signature, and even so, I would consider continuing to use [Mr/Mrs/Ms/Dr] [Lastname] even so, unless explicitly told to use the first name.

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