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Let Smith be the last name of a U.S.-grown-up professor you not only have taken part in whose class but also ended up becoming a friend of whom in a general sense; I wonder if it still sounds good if in an email to him one uses "Dear Prof. Smith" to address him. I am not really sure, given this condition, if using "Dear Prof." to begin an email to him would somehow become a tone that he does not like? But, on the other hand, I am afraid using, say "Hi Prof. Smith", would sound like one is exalting himself to the place at which Smith stands as a professional scholar.

The title of this question may not be precise (I am not an English native speaker); please feel free to edit it.

  • @user4050: Thank you. I have tried to narrow down the scope; does the question now contain sufficient information? Please let me know if it still lacks something. :) – Megadeth Oct 1 '15 at 14:43
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    I wouldn't use a job title during personal communications. "Hi Dr. John" works perfectly well, it shows respect for his accomplishments while being friendly. Basic rule: Use the same greeting you would if you unexpectedly met them in person. For some people, that might even be first name. – Ben Voigt Oct 1 '15 at 15:02
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    "Let John be the last name..." While John is a surname, it is much more common as a given ("first") name, to the extent that this choice is slightly confusing. (c.f. @Tom Church's answer...if I am not myself confused.) Could we perhaps substitute "Smith" instead? Or "Chang"? – Pete L. Clark Oct 1 '15 at 15:29
  • In a letter you have to make a decision and commit to it. In an email, you can straddle the fence, and just cop out by writing "Good afternoon." If you are really and truly stuck between perhaps not being formal enough (thus appearing presumptuous), vs. hurting the person's feelings by sounding too formal (coming across stiff and unfriendly), then you can ask. For example, "What do you like your students to call you in the greeting of a email or email? How shall I sign when I'm writing you an email?" – aparente001 Oct 14 '15 at 5:09
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    I strongly recommend "Yo Teach!" – Spencer Williams Apr 21 '18 at 23:30
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In the US, it is very unusual to combine the title "Professor" with a first name. I have never been referred to as "Professor Tom" in my whole career.

You can either write "Dear Prof. Smith", using the family name, or "Dear John". You should only write "Dear John" if you would call him "John" when you speak in person. (For people you haven't met in person, the decision is a bit different; but for people who you know personally, this is a good rule.) For example, my students generally call me "Prof. Church", but sometimes after they graduate I invite them to call me Tom; in this case, it would be perfectly appropriate to send me a letter beginning "Dear Tom".

I would use "Hi John" only to convey a very informal tone. Even with colleagues or students with whom I'm good friends outside of work, I still use "Dear Mary" when contacting them about professional business. For this reason, I don't recommend using "Hi Prof. Smith"; it mixes an informal term with a formal term.

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    +1; question: No one ever contacts you as "Dear Dr. Church" in this context? – gnometorule Oct 1 '15 at 15:33
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    Students sometimes use "Dr. Church", especially first-year students. I encourage them to use "Prof. Church", partly because I prefer it but mostly because many faculty strongly prefer it. My experience in academia (limited to research-intensive universities in the US) is that the only people who are ever called "Dr. Smith" are those who are not in academic positions (e.g. an NSF program director). In other words, in my experience the title "Prof." always takes precedence over "Dr." when both are present. I fear this discussion inevitably devolves into a collection of anecdotes, though. – Tom Church Oct 1 '15 at 21:31
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    While I agree that it is best to use "Prof" in emails to faculty with whom you are not on a 1st name basis, your claim that the only people who go by "Dr. LastName" are in non-academic positions does not accord with my experience. I know lots of faculty who go by "Dr. LastName" (e.g. yesterday one of my colleagues told me that he encouraged students to call him "Dr. V" since his last name is hard to pronounce). And while I've heard lots of faculty (esp. women) complain about being addressed by students using their first name, I've never heard anyone complain about "Dr. LastName". – Andy Putman Oct 2 '15 at 19:41
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    I disagree that "Hi John" is very informal, at least to the ear of a US-born English speaker. I had many professors as an undergrad that wished to exclusively be called by their first names, and I never use titles for faculty now that I am a grad student. It just isn't part of the culture, at least at the two institutions. – Alex Reinking Feb 21 at 7:51
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If you have already interacted with the professor extensively and also in an informal way, I would just address him by first name. "Dear John" or "Hello John", the first one being somewhat more formal. When you greet him you would say "hello John" I think, and not "Good morning professor John".

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Let Smith be the last name of a U.S.-grown-up professor you not only have taken part in whose class but also ended up becoming a friend of whom in a general sense

Given that, I imagine you've emailed Professor Smith before? If they sign their emails, check how they do so. That is usually a great hint as to how people wish to be addressed. I have never had a problem with addressing first emails as "Dear Professor XYZ" and then shifting towards a more informal "Hi [however they sign their emails]".

In addition, I would add that "Dear" can come off as either dated or overly formal. Although it wouldn't hurt necessarily, it might come off as trying a bit too hard if you open every email within a single conversation this way. However, the older the professor is, the more they tend to appreciate such gestures (at least in the US).

As long as you're using conventional salutations and parts of their actual titles and names ("Hi John" is often ok, "Yo Johnny-boy" is definitely not ok) you should be fine. If they correct you, respect the correction but do not worry that a bridge has been burnt. The US just doesn't place relationship-ending weight on titles and email formalities. That said, if you're very worried, it never hurts to ask.

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"Dear"? Is he dear to you? "Hi" is no good either, and is reserved for friends.

No, the answer to this is to just address him/her directly: "Professor Smith,".

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    This answer is inconsistent with all style guides I have ever seen for professional communication in English. (Conventions in other languages may be different.) – Tom Church Oct 1 '15 at 21:23
  • @TomChurch: You didn't address the "Dear" part, though. – TheDoctor Oct 1 '15 at 21:49
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    "Dear X" is an idiom in professional English. It does not denote that the recipient is actually dear to the writer. See also "Sehr geehrter Doktor Schmidt" and "Je vous prie de croire, Monsieur, à l'assurance de mes salutations distinguées". – JeffE Oct 1 '15 at 22:32
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    For what it's worth, possibly someone should note very specifically that this answer, plausible in some world, is in fact possibly-unfortunately inaccurate in the U.S. and western Europe, in all my experience. That is, idealized interpretations of cliches are not useful, etc. – paul garrett Oct 1 '15 at 22:49
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    Thank you. The word "dear" is also equivalent to "highly esteemed or regarded", as you may check any dictionary; so yes, such a professor is dear to me. – Megadeth Oct 2 '15 at 13:07

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