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German

Writing Letters in German

The following information about writing letters in German is not exhaustive, but should be regarded as helping to make your letters more "German" and, very importantly, to avoid misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Being familiar with some of the conventions of German letter-writing will also be useful when you receive letters in German or English from German native-speakers.

Laying out the letter: Formal letters

If you are writing on plain paper, you should either put your name and address at the top left and the date on the right, or put the address on the right with the date underneath. A letterhead is usually positioned in the middle, in which case you can put the date on the right-hand side beneath it.

Write your name without title; on the next line comes the street followed by the house number; then comes the postcode (die Postleitzahl) followed by the name of the town. There is no end-of-line punctuation.

Gabi Müller

Clemensstraße 81

82765 München

Always put the recipient's address on the left-hand side of the page. Leave a few line spaces between it and your address. The addressed person's title appears on the first line, in the accusative.

Herrn (Mr)

Frau (Mrs/ Ms)

Familie (Family)

Rank and professional titles (Major, Professor, Studienrätin, etc.) are usually included on this line.

Herrn Professor

Frau Studienrätin

Exceptions to this rule are the abbreviations Dr. and Dipl.Ing (Diplomingenieur), which go with the name on the second line.

On line two, write the recipient's first name (if you know it), followed by the surname. On line three, put the street followed by the house number. Leave a line space and on line five, write the name of the town preceded by the postcode.

Herrn Studienrat

Otto Schlau

Adlerstraße 15

87645 Schwangau

Frau

Dr. Ilse Wolf

Kellergasse 15

08538 Rosenberg

When writing to a couple:

Herrn und Frau

Hans Schmidt und Elke Schmidt

If they have different surnames:

Herrn und Frau

Hans Schmidt und Elke Voss

Note that in German all women are addressed as Frau (the equivalent of both Mrs and Ms) in formal and business letters.

If you are writing to a company, write the name of the organization on the first line. An individual recipient's title and name follow on the next line. This may be preceded by z.H. (zu Händen, 'for the attention of'):

Bayerische Versicherungsanstalt

z.H. Herrn Hans Sirges

Kurze Straße 7-10

86152 Augsburg

In business letters it is usual to refer to any previous correspondence. This reference usually includes the date of the last letter and possibly a reference number.

Ihr Schreiben vom 28. April 2002

Laying out the letter: Informal letters

When writing an informal letter, it is customary not to include either your own or the recipient's address. On most personal letters and postcards, it is sufficient to put the name of the place and the date in the top right-hand corner. With letters, the sender's full address should be recorded either on the back of the envelope or on the front, top left.

Dates

Dates are always written in the same way in German-day/ month/ year.

Hamburg, (den) 30. Juni 2002

In business letters, or when you are using headed paper, the date is usually written in numbers: 30. 6. 2002

Beginnings

In a formal business letter, when you know the recipient's name:

Sehr geehrter Herr Schwarz

Sehr geehrte Frau Kühn

To a couple:

Sehr geehrte Frau Voss,

Sehr geehrter Herr Voss

When you do not know the person to whom you are writing:

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren

(= Dear Sir or Madam)

When writing to someone with a title there is no need to use their surname:

Sehr geehrte Frau Professor

(= Dear Professor)

However, when writing to someone who holds the academic title of Doctor but is not a doctor of medicine, the abbreviation Dr. precedes the name:

Sehr geehrte Frau Dr. Kunze

Less formal, to someone you have established a good relationship with:

Lieber Herr Braun

Liebe Frau Fischer

In informal letters or to someone you know well, write:

Lieber Hans

Liebe Gabi

If you are writing to more than one person:

Liebe Natalie, lieber Peter

All these greetings can either be followed by a comma, with the first line then starting with a small letter, or by an exclamation mark, with the first line starting with a capital. Most correspondence now uses the comma after the greeting.

Lieber Fritz,

vielen Dank für deinen Brief.

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren!

Wie ich Ihnen bereits mitgeteilt habe,

In the letter itself the formal "you" (Sie, Ihr, Ihre) is written with a capital.

Endings

Use this standard ending when the person is known to you but the relationship is not very close:

Mit freundlichen Grüßen

You could also finish the letter with:

Es grüßt Sie

Mit besten Grüßen

(followed by your signature)

In a formal business letter:

Mit freundlichen Empfehlungen

Hochachtungsvoll

To someone you know well:

Herzliche Grüße

Mit herzlichen Grüßen

(Ihr/Ihre)

(signature follows)

Or, more affectionately:

Alles Liebe

Bis bald

Es grüßt recht herzlich

Note that if more than one person signs a letter, the pronoun has to be repeated:

Alles Liebe

deine Oma und dein Opa

eure Steffi und euer Rolf

dein Peter, dein Hans

There is no punctuation after the ending.

Addressing the envelope

Line 1: the person's basic title Herrn, Frau.

Line 2: the recipient's name.

Line 3: the street followed by house number.

Line 4: the postcode, followed by the town, which is often written in capitals. The German postcode refers to a town or to part of a larger town or city.

Line 5: for international letters, the country.

In typed or printed business mail there is a blank line before the town or place.

Frau

Gabi Müller

Clemensstraße 81

D-82765 MÜNCHEN

The postcode may be preceded by D for Germany, joined to the code with a hyphen.

If you are writing to someone staying with a family or friend, use bei (= c/o) plus the surname, e.g. bei Müller

Begin your return address on the envelope with the word Abs. (short for Absender - from).

Abs. Karin Klein

Kochstr. 81

D-26122 OLDENBURG

Applying for a job

When applying for a job, it is usual to send a letter of application along with your CV. This letter should follow the general letter-writing conventions. Applications should be written or printed on A4 paper. If you know the name of the recipient from the advertisement, address your letter to him or her and quote where you saw the job advertised. When applying for a job in Germany, photocopies of certificates and diplomas for qualifications gained must accompany the application. A letter of recommendation is especially useful if you are applying for a position as a trainee and have no other professional qualifications.

Attach a photograph of yourself to the top right-hand corner of your CV. Make sure that your name and address are on the back of the photograph.

You could finish your letter of application on a positive note, such as:

In der Hoffnung auf eine positive Antwort verbleibe ich mit freundlichen Grüßen

(signature follows)

The CV itself should be one or two pages long. It should present all the information in a clear and accessible manner. Your name, address and contact details should come first. Personal information such as marital status are optional, although date of birth is usually expected.

Most CVs are organized in chronological order, either starting from the earliest date to the present day or vice versa. Avoid gaps and give a brief description of your education, professional qualifications, experience and positions held. You could add a further section for other types of information such as hobbies and special interests.

Before sending your application off, make sure you have enclosed all the certificates mentioned in the advertisement.

Download examples of formal and informal correspondence

Oxford University Press