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Formal letters almost always used to start with "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren," or "Sehr geehrter Herr Maier" if the person is known. However more and more we see formal correspondence that addresses with "Guten Tag," or "Guten Tag Herr Maier". The former may be less fashionable but is there any consent on what occasions we rather not use the one or the other?

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7 Answers 7

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The salutation "Guten Tag" in written communication is a more informal variation of "Sehr geehrte/r....".

Both essentially say the same thing, but "Sehr geehrte/r" has been the accepted way to formally address a person for I don't know how many decades.

In my personal experience, "Guten Tag" has gained traction especially in industries that cultivate a more laid-back attitude - Media, parts of IT, and so on - where "Sehr geehrte/r..." is perceived as overly formal. It is becoming more and more popular among younger people (in their 20s, 30s, 40s) in general, no matter what field they work in. I have seen federal employees in their twenties use "Guten Tag" (although it's not the norm).

If in doubt - say, when applying for a position with a German Bank - you can't go wrong with "Sehr geehrte/r".

For everything else, especially if you are on friendly terms with the recipient, "Guten Tag" (or, if you're really familiar with the person, later, "Hallo") is perfectly acceptable.

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I would never write Guten Tag and have never seen it. (This is not to deny that other people use it, just saying.) –  Phira May 25 '11 at 6:46
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@thei fair enough, but it is in the ranks of generally accepted salutations: See e.g. din-5008-tipps.de/die-anrede-nach-din-5008 –  Pekka 웃 May 25 '11 at 6:48
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I find "Guten Tag..." a very elegant solution for private, but formal Emails (like asking for support online). –  ladybug May 25 '11 at 9:15
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Online support or writing an email to a company as an individual client. My biggest problem with "Sehr geehrter Herr..." is that it is that you have to know the name, and "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" feels like you´re holding a public speaking, or writing a B2B letter. I often write "Guten Tag" in my work life, but normally I use "Sehr geehrter", because it is never wrong (even if it can sound a little bit "cold" or official) and because writing "Guten Tag" 5 times a day to the same person feels strange. –  Yves Jul 21 at 21:46
    
And, when in Austria, stick with "Sehr geehrte..."; on the one hand, Austria tends to be more formal than Germany, and on the other hand, "Guten Tag" is perceived as typically German (as opposed to Austrian). –  wolfgang Nov 16 at 18:27

In my experience you usually use "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" to begin a correspondence, possibly when you're not entirely sure who is going to read/respond to it. As the correspondence continues, it may be adequate to switch to "Guten Tag", as it builds up some familiarity with the correspondant.

It could easily be considered a little too formal to start every single message in the conversation with "sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" if it is already clear who's going to reply to you.

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Regarding the last paragraph; when you know who is replying, it is actually better to write “Sehr geehrte Frau X”/“Sehr geehrter Herr X” instead. But other than that, I would agree that “Guten Tag” is a bit more casual in a letter (although a simple “Hallo” would be fine too). –  poke May 24 '11 at 20:02
    
@poke: In many situations, I would perceive "Hallo" to be way too informal, and instead switch to "Guten Tag", which I perceive as almost as formal as "Sehr geehrte/r ...". That applies especially when I know who is going to reply, but I cannot figure out from the name whether it is a male or a female person. In that situation, I tend to avoid the very unpersonal "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren" and instead use the equally polite, but much more sympathic "Guten Tag" (either without a name, or with the with the full name, thus omitting "Herr"/"Frau"). –  O. R. Mapper Nov 16 at 21:55

You don't use Guten Tag in the evening or at night. ;)

No, seriously, Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren is the way to go if you are writing a formal letter to someone you barely know. If you meet someone in person, you could say Guten Tag!.

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Actually, that's one reason why I often prefer "Guten Tag" over "Sehr geehrte/r ..." in letters, as the former allows for some variation ("Guten Morgen", "Guten Abend", depending on the time of the day) in the course of longer letter/e-mail exchanges. –  O. R. Mapper Nov 17 at 13:02

I have never seen a letter (or an email) that starts with "Guten Tag". In what context have you seen this "more and more"?

If a letter is more informal it will start with:

Liebe Frau Müller! (Dear Mrs. Müller)

or

Liebe Mitreisende! (Dear travel group)

If it is an informal email, you can start with "Hallo" or "Hi".

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I find that salutation kind of intrusive; neither would I want to judge, or imply, the recipient's personality in the salutation, nor would I want to be judged like that when receiving communication. From what I have seen (in a part of the CS sector, that is), using the less intrusive "Guten Tag" is very common whenever "Sehr geehrte/r ..." is perceived as either too formal or too repetitive, both in e-mails and in snail mail letters. Interestingly, the group salutation ("Liebe Mitreisende" in your example) strikes me as less offensive than the one to a single person. –  O. R. Mapper Nov 16 at 22:01

I would use the first one if i'm writing to a group of persons and i don't know who will read my letter. Both is formal and may be used in any case.

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I edited the Q to point to differences even if the person is known. –  Takkat May 24 '11 at 20:02

I think the difference is that 'Guten Tag' et al. are conversational (rather than written) greetings

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If you are a native English speaker contacting a German media or communications professional, is it preferable to use sehr geehrte. Guten Tag or Hallo may be used in an informal setting but it may be too informal if the professional in question is not someone I have spoken to, corresponded with or even met before.

If you are an English speaker writing a request for some information about a product or requesting some data, using the "wrong" salutation may not have such negative results as when written by a native speaker. Still, in my media experience, any letter or email that was addressed to myself specifically, or the newsroom in general, that was strangely (read: incorrectly) addressed would generally be a red flag that the subsequent letter/email was going to be garbage.

Is it wrong then to assume that a letter to a German-speaking professional with the wrong salutation will not be ignored or deleted without any response.

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