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I am currently working on an app that sends a multitude of auto-generated emails for things such as the following:

  • Email verification
  • Thanks for verifying your account
  • Some items in your account require your attention
  • Unrecognised login alert
  • That sort of thing...

At the same time, I am also having to localise the application into German.

Some examples:

Requiring knowledge of gender (m/f to infer salutation) or salutation (Herr/Frau)

Sehr geehrter Herr Mustermann,

vielen Dank, dass Sie sich für XYZ entschieden haben. Bitte klicken Sie hier um Ihre E-Mail-Adresse zu bestätigen und dann kann's direkt losgehen. [...]

Does not require knowledge of gender or salutation

Guten Tag Max Mustermann,

vielen Dank, dass Sie sich [...]

As above, but perhaps less appropriate

Hallo Max Mustermann,

vielen Dank, dass Sie sich [...]

The end users (recipients of these emails) are all using the software for business purposes - perhaps this helps with the context (Du is most certainly out of the question).

So my question to you is:

Is it required to use the full formal salutation (first example) in such emails?

Because this would require me to also identify their gender/preferred salutation during account creation - which would open additional questions: would I ask for their gender so I am covered for the future in terms of extending the salutation to other languages (being able to infer 'Mr.' and 'Ms.' but not 'Mrs.'; 'Herr' and 'Frau'; etc.)? This could seem intrusive, I suppose. Should I instead show a localised select list instead?

Happy to hear any thoughts, real-life examples on the matter.

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    It's Email-Adresse (note the hyphen), German is picky about hyphens. All your examples are okay, however, when I receive an email starting with Guten Tag <firstname> <surname> I immediately become suspicious. Because, a human would never write this way. So, better to ask for the correct title (also include Dr. == doctor –works for both male and female doctors– as there are a lot of those folks out there who like to read that ever and ever again.) – Janka Oct 31 '16 at 18:09
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    Note that email in German is E-Mail. Email is also a German word (that’s why most spell checkers do not find this mistake), but it means enamel. – Loong Oct 31 '16 at 18:15
  • Until the day a kid went to the department store, looked at the pots and said "Guck mal Mama, der Topf hat Email!" – Janka Oct 31 '16 at 18:17
  • @Janka - thanks for the comment regarding the general tone being fairly appropriate, while pointing out that using the proper salutation is likely the best option. Do you know what the best way is to ask for this? Two separate fields? One for a "Herr/Frau" selection and one for entering an additional free-text field for salutations such as "Prof. Dr. Dr. rer. nat. hc."? – user22092 Oct 31 '16 at 18:44
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    Exactly. According to Duden "E-Mail[-Adresse]" is the only proper spelling. – PerlDuck Oct 31 '16 at 18:49
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Hallo

»Hallo« can be used to greet someone, who you address with »Du« (German is a T-V distinguishing language, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T–V_distinction). So if you can say

Wie geht es dir?

to someone, then you can great him or her with »Hallo«.

But if you have to say

Wie geht es Ihnen?

then »Hallo« is not a good choice. It is too informal. If the recipient is older than about 20 or 30 years, or if you don't know his or her age, then you should not use »Hallo«.


Guten Tag

»Guten Tag« literally means »good day«, where »day« is the opposite of »night« (i.e. as used here »Tag« is not meant as a period of 24 hours). So it depends on the daytime, if »Guten Tag« is an appropriate salutation. But you, as the sender, can not know at which time of day the recipient will open and read the mail. It is very likely, that some of your recipients will read you mail at the late evening or even in the night. In this case »Guten Tag« sounds a little strange. So I would recommend not to use a salutation that depends on any daytime in an e-mail.


Sehr geehrte(r) Frau/Herr <surname>

If you don't know the gender of the recipient, this is the best solution for your problem. This salutation is very common, and gender-brackets and -slashes are also very common in written German, so this is no problem. It will be accepted.

But if you use »Sehr geehrte(r) ...«, then better don't add the first name to the Salutation. Use the academic grade or any title you know and just the surname.

Do it this way:

Sehr geehrte(r) Frau/Herr Dr. Frankenstein

If you have no information about the grade or title, do it this way:

Sehr geehrte(r) Frau/Herr Frankenstein

This is ok, but not as good as the previous versions:

Sehr geehrte(r) Frau/Herr Viktor Frankenstein
Sehr geehrte(r) Frau/Herr Dr. Viktor Frankenstein


Ms. vs. Mrs. in German

In German salutations you address female persons older than about 14 years, always as »Frau«. Decades ago you used »Fräulein« for young unmarried women, but is thought to be political incorrect since about 30 years. So always use »Frau« for female recipients (except for children).

  • "It is very likely, that some of your recipients will read you mail at the late evening or even in the night." - that is the first time I see someone interpret the written salutation Guten Tag, Guten Abend, Guten Morgen, or the like to express the time of reading rather than the time of writing in asynchronous communication. I am not sure that makes much sense; for practical reasons, asynchronous messages such as letters or e-mails have to be interpreted in the context of the sender rather than that of the recipient. – O. R. Mapper Oct 31 '16 at 19:40
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Is it required to use the full formal salutation (first example) in such emails?

No, not in every context. The required/expected formality of the salutation depends on how the app should be perceived by users. A stock exchange app may need to evoke a different impression than an app that disseminates news about pop music on behalf of a TV channel. In that respect, German is not that different from English, where different apps will use different salutations such as "Dear " or "Hey there, ".

Apart from that, the exact salutation depends a bit on what information you have about the recipient:

  • name
    • first and last name (separately)
    • just one name (which could well be a nickname rather than a real name)
  • sex
  • age

For instance, by knowing the first and last name separately, as well as the recipient's sex, a salutation like "Sehr geehrte Frau Meier" can be constructed, whereas if you know only one name in all, you can only put that behind "Herr" or "Frau" and hope the result makes some sense.

Likewise, if you know the recipient's age, you could switch between the formal ("Sie") and informal ("du") way of addressing the recipient, and you can decide to skip "Herr" or "Frau" in the salutation. Note, however, that none of this is absolutely expected; it is, for instance, completely normal in Germany to see banks or public agencies (both of which are fully aware of the recipient's age) address even little children with "Sehr geehrter Herr ..."/"Sehr geehrte Frau ..." and "Sie", simply as a way of showing respect towards customers/citizens.

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