Comma vs. Colon in a Greeting or Salutation

Use either a comma or a colon after a greeting at the start of an email or a letter. The colon is preferred in business or other formal communication in U.S. style.

  • Informal: Dear Rita,
  • Formal (American): Dear Dr. Harris:
  • Formal (British): Dear Dr Harris,

When to use a colon

Use a colon after a greeting in a business letter or email in U.S. style. It’s also fine to use a comma, but the colon is more formal. The preferred way to greet someone formally is Dear So-and-So (with title and last name or full name) rather than with an informal greeting like Hi or Hello. Addressing the person directly (without prefacing it with Dear) is also acceptable in formal communication.

  • Dear Dr. Dash:
  • Dear Minerva Dash:
  • Dear Accountholder:
  • Dear Students:
  • Dear Applicant:
  • Dear Sir/Madam:
  • Dr. Dash:
  • Team:
  • Students:
  • To Whom It May Concern:
  • Dear Head of Human Resources:
  • Dear Parents and Students:

When to use a comma

Commas are used after both formal and informal greetings in British style. In American style, a comma is used after a casual greeting (with the colon preferred in formal salutations).

  • Hi Lulu,
  • Hello Anita,
  • Dear Lulu,
  • Students,
  • Hello, Team,
  • Dear Students,
  • Good Morning,
  • Dear Dr Dash,
  • Dr Dash,
  • Dear Minerva Dash,
  • Dear Prof. Lobo,
  • Dear Colleagues,
  • Sir,
  • Dear Sir/Madam,
  • Dear Head of Human Resources:
  • Dear Parents and Students:

In British writing, no period is used after a contracted title like Mr and Dr, but one is used if the shortened form comprises only the first part of the word (like Prof.). In American style, periods are used after all contracted titles (Mr., Dr., Prof., etc.).

Punctuation may be omitted altogether from an email salutation or greeting, as noted by the New Oxford Style Manual.

  • Dear Students
  • Hi Mom
  • Dear Mr Tuck

Punctuation in a salutation is omitted more often in British than in American usage. In formal communication, prefer to use a colon (American) or a comma (British).

Comma after Hi or Hello

The comma of direct address between a greeting like Hi or Hello and the person’s name is usually omitted in informal messages, where it can seem unduly fussy. Both styles are acceptable in casual communication: you may either use or omit this comma in your greeting.

  • Correct: Hi Lulu,
  • Correct: Hi, Lulu,

Style manuals like the Chicago Manual of Style, AP Stylebook, and MLA Handbook agree that this is a matter of personal preference. Note that casual greetings like Hi or Hello are not used in formal communication at all, where you should use Dear So-and-So instead.

Quick Quiz

Which is correctly punctuated as an email greeting?
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Which is preferred in formal U.S. style?
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Which punctuation style is preferred in an informal greeting?
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