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I have been sending emails (in English) to the "visitor's program" of an institute in Germany. Initially, only one person used to reply to these emails, and I addressed this person.

Recently, two more people started replying from the same account (and they seem to reply in some random order). I started addressing the person who last replied, but since then, it has happened twice that I addressed an email to "Mr. A", but "Ms. B" or "Mr. C" replied to that email.

Also, some of them write Dr. in their signature, while some do not write. And they are not professors (So Dear Prof. A, Prof. B, Prof. C won't work). Since some of them don't write Dr., I feel it may not be a good idea to write "Dear Mr. A, Ms. B, and Dr. C".

Can I write "To whom it may concern"? Is that somehow considered rude?

Although this institute is in Germany, feel free to add information about other countries.

I don't think this is a duplicate of this because I am concerned about addressing more than one people simultaneously, while that question seems to be more concerned about gender of the recipient.

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3 Answers 3

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I would reply to whoever wrote the latest email... it is a reply after all. When other people take over and respond, I interpret that as if the group that monitors the email is always in bbc, and is free to join in the conversation/take over when it becomes useful. When I reply, it's to the last person to have "spoken," unless I need to address something specific a different person said, in which case I might write back to both (ETA: as in, "Dear Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones, " or "Hi Sarah and Michael, " matching their tone).

There was some talk in the comments of this question about etiquette in various countries. I'm from the US but have worked in Europe for four years, and I still would go with this strategy. I know German addresses combined with honorifics are notoriously more formal than other languages, but usually when the conversation is in English and among an international crowd, the international English standards take over. I've never lived or worked in Germany, but get communications from German academics and haven't noticed any deviations from that norm.

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  • I forgot to add some information to the question (some have Dr. in their signature, some do not), but now I have edited it. Please have a look at it. Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 3:26
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    I live and work in Germany. This is what I would do and what I expect. My department uses shared mail accounts and even we do not know who of us is responding to what half of the time – we certainly do not expect outsiders to keep track of the department's members' internal responsibilities.
    – Hermann
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 9:42
  • @ArchismanPanigrahi Honestly it's probably better to go with first names if you're this deep into the conversation. If you notice they are really sticking to last name addresses, then I'd always just reply the last person who responded, using Dr. if appropriate. If I do need to reference two people (which should be rare) then it's fine to say Dr. Jones and Mr. Smith, though it does feel more awkward than going with first names. Take a look at how they are talking to you and how they are signing their emails.
    – Well...
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 9:51
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    "when the conversation is in English and among an international crowd, the international English standards take over." Indeed. I remember my PhD days (Austria), when my advisor and I would address each other as "Lieber Hr. [my last name]/Sehr geehrter Prof. [his last name]" in e-mails. However, as soon as we were in an English-language conversation with other scientists, we referred to each other by our first names: "To elaborate on [my/his first name]'s point, ...".
    – Heinzi
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 12:17
  • Typo: "bbc" should be "bcc"
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 14:58
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The customary formal address in written English to an unknown (number of) recipient(s) is "Dear Sir or Madam". In German, it would be "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren".

However, although German etiquette is a tad more formal than US etiquette, it's alright to just omit the salutation after the first or second reply in an email exchange.

Some other okay options, in order of my subjective sense of appropriateness (with 10 years in German and Austrian academia):

  • "Dear Mr A, dear Ms B, dear Ms C"
  • "Dear X" (with X being the person who replied last)
  • "Hello"

"To whom it may concern" is not a great choice. It's very formal, old-fashioned, and used only when the recipients are unknown.

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    Strongly disagree with your opening sentence - never once have I addressed anyone as "sir" or "madam" in English, especially not academia, and I would find it extremely odd to respond to a "visitor's office" with "sir." In any case, perhaps that could be qualified to what you mean? I know little about international English Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 21:01
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    @Azor Again -him- good to know. Dear sir/madam seems to be less common than I thought. See grammarly.com/blog/dear-sir-or-madam then again, this could be one of the occasions where it makes sense. Commented Feb 22, 2021 at 21:33
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    What about "To whom it may concern"? I'm not a native speaker, but I was taught that would be the go-to line when corresponding with an unknown recipient / when there might be more then one person receiving the message.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 9:02
  • See also english.stackexchange.com/questions/2112/… Commented Feb 23, 2021 at 9:06
  • I think omitting the salutation, while acceptable, is still impolite, both in English and German. A good indication is usually to see what the other party does.
    – user151413
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 23:27
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  • To whom it may concern
  • Dear sir/madam
  • ...

Are fine for first contact. Subsequently, respond inline, which doesn't require a salutation.

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  • Why does answering inline not require a salutation? Omitting it is equally impolite in both cases.
    – user151413
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 23:28
  • @user151413 Responding inline is a continuation, the necessary salutation already appeared. Conversations open with salutations, they aren't scattered throughout.
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 8:09
  • I think there's different opinions on that. I would still start with "Dear user2768", and then respond to the points inline (possibly after an introductory sentence). You could equally argue that responding to an email is a response, and the saluation has occured in the first email. In any case, if otherwise you are polite etc., it will not matter.
    – user151413
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 10:09
  • @user151413 Yes, there's different opinions. E.g., salutations are impolite, they waste time.
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 10:23
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    @user151413 SPAM detection
    – user2768
    Commented Mar 4, 2021 at 8:25

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