Spanish Letter Writing – Por favor, señor cartero

Writing letters in Spanish

People often wonder whether, with phones, email, texting and the like, we’ve got out of the habit of letter-writing. The truth is that both in the UK and in Spain, fewer and fewer letters are written by the general public, while the tide of junk mail sent by companies shows no sign of abating.

However, there are still times when, for one reason or another, people in both countries find themselves picking up a pen and writing a formal letter (perhaps to a solicitor) or something less formal (Auntie Edith and Tía Carmen are both deaf and haven’t got their heads round this new-fangled interweb thingy), so let’s have a look at some of the main features of Spanish letter-writing.

Spanish letter-writing conventions

The first main difference between Spanish letter-writing and its English-language equivalent is that Spanish doesn’t need you to include your full address in the top-right-hand corner. Great news if you’re running low on ink. All you need is the name of the town/city from which you’re writing, a comma, and the date (which you can abbreviate, but it’s generally written out in full). Here’s an example:

Barcelona, 15 de febrero de 2012

Notice the two inclusions of de in the format of the date. It’s a good idea to copy this in all forms of written and spoken Spanish, as to miss elements out can appear sloppy.

If your letter is formal and you need both sender’s and recipient’s addresses to appear at the head of the letter, then Spanish letter-writing allows for this without any problems – just follow your instincts.

Beginning a Spanish letter

Your greeting has a couple of points to bear in mind. There are equivalents for ‘Dear Sir’ (Muy señor mío), ‘Dear Madam’ (Muy señora mía) and ‘Dear Sirs’ (Muy señores míos) or, if you know the person’s surname, you can say ‘Dear Mr(s) X’ (Estimado Sr. X, Estimada Sra. X). The unexpected twist is that it’s usual to add a colon after the greeting:

Muy señores míos:

Alternatively, if you’re inclined to start with something snappy like ‘Hi Laura’, you can do so with the colon – Hola Laura: – or, more commonly in Spanish letter-writing than in English, exclamation marks can be used – ¡Hola Laura! (this time without a colon).

Naturally, the main body of the letter depends on what you want to say, but do remember to be consistent with your choice of formal versus informal address – generally or usted, but a letter can be addressed to plural recipients vosotros/as and ustedes too.

Ending a Spanish letter

Signing off in formal Spanish letter-writing is quite formulaic, and is often reduced to simply Atentamente (equating to the English ‘Yours faithfully’). Don’t be surprised to see it expressed as le saluda atentamente – literally ‘[the undersigned] salutes you attentively’.

To a friend or family member, the usual way to sign off is via one or more kisses or a hug before your signature:

Un beso (de) – a kiss (from)
Muchos besos (de) – a lot of kisses (from)
Un abrazo (de) – a hug (from)

Don’t worry about being effusive with hugs and kisses in informal Spanish letter-writing – it doesn’t actually sound as ‘soppy’ as it would it English!

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