Whether you're doing business, writing to a friend, or practicing for a class or self-study, writing a letter in German requires a bit of attention to detail. Make sure you address your letter correctly and use the proper greetings and closings. Above all, follow the rules of etiquette, which vary depending on the formality or informality of the letter.
Method 1 of 3: Formally Write a Letter
Step 1. Enter the address (Anschrift)
It is only necessary to write the address in a letter if it is formal. Otherwise, you can write the address on the envelope or package. In German, the address components come in a different order than English: title, name, street and number, postal code (Postleitzahl), and location. For instance:
Frau (instead of Mrs. and "Herr" instead of Mr.) Marianne Mülller, Zeughofstrasse 23, 1121 Berlin, Deutschland
Step 2. Write the date (Datum)
It is usually placed in the upper right corner of the document. There are multiple ways to write a date on a German letter, which can vary from the way it is written in English or Spanish. You can also choose to write the place (Ort) from which you write next to the date. For example, all of the following are acceptable ways to write "from Berlin, April 13, 2017." Pay special attention to the placement of the periods (do not use hyphens, slashes or commas):
- 13. April 2017
- Berlin, 13.04.2017
- Berlin, den 13. April 2017
Step 3. Choose a formal greeting (Anrede)
Letters in German should always begin with a short greeting addressed to the reader of the letter. For a formal correspondence there are a number of acceptable greetings. If it is correspondence to a professional (such as a doctor or a civil servant), include their title. Make sure to pay attention to the differences in spelling, whether you are writing to a man, a woman, or both:
- Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren (Dear Sir or Madam)
- Sehr geehrte Damen (Dear Madam)
- Sehr geehrte Herren (Knights)
- Sehr geehrte Frau Müller (Dear Mrs. Müller)
- Sehr geehrter Herr Mülller (Dear Mr. Mülller)
- Sehr geehrte Frau Bundeskanzlerin (Dear Mrs. Chancellor)
- Sehr geehrter Herr Professor Müller (Dear Professor Müller)
- Sehr geehrte Frau Dr. Mann, sehr geehrter Herr Mann (Dear Dr. Mann; dear Mr. Mann)
Step 4. Follow the label when writing the content of the letter
For formal correspondence in German you can be direct about the purpose of your letter. However, it is a good idea to structure your letter carefully and show courtesy.
- Begin the body of the letter with a brief introduction (identify yourself, greet the recipient, briefly explain the purpose of the letter). Unlike what happens in English or Spanish, the first word of the body of the letter is not capitalized.
- Follow the letter, writing in detail about the purpose of it. Be clear about what you are requesting, explaining or asking (for example, when registering a complaint or asking about a business opportunity).
- End the body of the letter with a brief closing that summarizes the purpose of the letter, explains how you want the recipient to respond or if you want them to respond, and thank them for their time.
Step 5. Select a formal closure (Briefschluss)
The closing of the letter should be courteous and respectful. Like the greeting, it can take one of several forms. Pay particular attention to spelling, as closings that sound very similar to English or Spanish will be spelled differently in German. Possible closures (and their rough equivalents in Spanish) include:
- Mit freundlichen Grüssen (Yours sincerely)
- Mit freundlichem Gruss (Sincerely)
- Freundliche Grüsse (Kind regards)
- Mit den besten Grüsssen (With best regards)
- Beste Grüsse aus Berlin (Kind regards from Berlin)
- Herzliche Grüsse (Kind regards)
Method 2 of 3: Write an Informal Letter
Step 1. Select an informal greeting
By writing an informal letter in German, such as English or Spanish, you have more freedom to start your letter. It is not necessary to write the date or the address, although you can if you want. Give the letter an informal greeting that suits the person you are writing to. Pay special attention to spelling. For example, write "Liebe" ("Dear") if you are writing to a woman, but "Lieber" ("Dear") if you are writing to a man. Try one of these greetings:
- Guten Tag, Frau Müller (Good morning, Mrs. Müller)
- Liebe Frau Müller (Dear Mrs. Müller)
- Lieber Heinrich (Dear Heinrich)
- Hello, Andreas (Hello, Andreas)
- Mein lieber Schatz (My dearest)
- Hallo mein Liebling (Hello my love)
- Hallo meine Süße ("Hello darling" used with women)
- Hallo mein Süßer ("Hello darling" used for men)
Step 2. Write the body of the letter
Since the letter is informal, you have a lot of freedom in choosing what to say and how to structure it. In general, try to keep your ideas grouped together and separate paragraphs with line breaks so that the letter is easy to read.
Remember that you do not need to capitalize the first word in the body of your letter
Step 3. Close the letter informally
Even for letters to friends or family, it is polite to include a clear closing in your letter. You can be more casual or even intimate, depending on who you are writing to. Try one of these common closures:
- Herzlichst (Cordially)
- Viele Grüße (Many greetings)
- Liebe Grüße (With love)
- Alles Liebe (With love)
- Dein (Yours)
- Deine (Yours)
- In Liebe ("With love" for romantic relationships)
Method 3 of 3: Send the letter
Step 1. Format the address
If you are sending a physical letter, you will need the name of the person, company or organization you are addressing (and their title, if applicable), their address, zip code, and their location. You should also include the destination country, especially if you are writing from abroad. Write the information in the appropriate order, according to this model:
Herr Dr. Tomasz Mann, Zeughofstrasse 23, 1121 Berlin, Deutschland
Step 2. Write the address on the envelope or package
Make sure to put your address (the sender's) in the upper left corner, in the same format as the address of the person you are writing to. Write the recipient's address at the bottom right.
Step 3. Send your letter
If you are sending a letter within or from Germany, you can contact Deutsche Post, visit their website, or stop by one of their offices for details on how to purchase the stamp and send the letter. If you are writing to Germany or elsewhere, contact your local post office for information on how to deliver the letter. You can also have private shipping options with shipping companies like FedEx, DHL, and UPS.
Step 4. Follow standard letter writing conventions when sending an email
For the most part, the guidelines for writing a letter in German apply when sending email or other electronic correspondence. Above all, pay attention to the distinctions between formal and informal writing. Although email is instantaneous, it is still worth showing courtesy and respect, especially when writing to people you don't know.