How to write a letter in French - start to finish [formal + informal]

Some will say letters are old-fashioned. But there’s something special about taking the time to write a letter, mail it, and then wait for the recipient’s reaction.

Personally, I’ve always loved to send and receive snail mail, even more so since the arrival of the Internet! As a teen, when we got the Internet at home — yes, I’m a certain age — I used chat rooms… to find pen friends all over the world with whom to exchange traditional letters!

On a more practical note, letters are still widely used for formal matters in France, not only in a professional setting, but also for daily tasks such as canceling a bank account or claiming a refund from a utility provider.

This article will teach you how to write a letter in French, and before you argue that emails are faster and save some paper, remember: you can also send a letter digitally!

How to write a letter in French.

Why learn how to write a letter in French?

In general, French tends to be more formal than English. And writing a letter in French is no exception.

Each language has its own layout, formalities and tone when it comes to writing a letter, whatever the context.

It’s even more important to know how to draft a letter in French in a professional or formal setting, as it will help you to be taken seriously and make your point.

From the main vocabulary and greetings to formatting, keep reading to learn how to write the perfect formal or informal letter in French.

Key letter writing vocabulary to keep in mind

First things first: below are a few key terms related to letters in French.

Format A4A4 size
Format A5A5 size
Courrier électronique/E-mail/CourrielEmail
Courrier postalPost mail
TimbrerTo stamp
Bureau de postePost office
Boîte aux lettresLetterbox

Formatting a letter in French

When writing a formal letter in French, your goal should be to be as brief and clear as possible, while respecting the basic formalities.

Obviously, you have more freedom for formal letters, but maybe not 18 pages… front and back!

In a nutshell, here is how you should format a letter in French:

  • Top left: First name, last name, address, phone number and email address.
  • Top right: Name and contact details of the recipient.
  • Below your contact details: Objet :”, followed by a short summary of the reason why you are writing.
  • Below the object, on the right: Place and date.

In a formal letter, you may also include elements like a reference/order number, a job ad number or a folio number, for example. This would go below the recipient and above the place and date.

Here is an example of a formal letter formatting in French.

Formal letter formatting in French.

How to write the date on a letter in French

In French, the date format is quite different from the American one.

Instead of MM-DD-YYYY, French people — and Europeans in general — use DD-MM-YYYY.

It seems simple, but it gets confusing for expiration dates on food, believe me!

Coming back to our topic, in the case of a formal letter, it’s best to actually write the date: “Lyon, le 3 juin 2023”.

Unlike in English, months and days in French are never capitalized, except when they start a sentence.

For example:

Lundi 11 mai.

Je viendrai ce lundi 11 mai.

Our article on “Days of the week in French” might be useful too!

How to write a formal or business letter in French

The rule of thumb when writing a formal or business letter in French is to stay formal. Use ready-made greetings —- called formules de politesse — and stay super polite, even if you’re writing a complaint.

Basically, write on eggshells!

Writing a formal or business letter in French.

Formal letter greetings

So, how to start a letter in French? No surprise there, you’ll need a salutation!

You’ll find a bunch in this article on French greetings, but we’ve summed up the main ones for a formal letter in the table below.

Important: Never use “cher/chère” (dear) in a formal letter in French.

Dear Sir / Madam (Dupont)Monsieur, Madame (Dupont)
To whom it may concernÀ qui de droit
Dear SirsMessieurs
Dear Mr PresidentMonsieur le Président
Dear Mrs PresidentMadame la Présidente

How to start a formal letter in French

Remember the writing on eggshells concept? Here is a good example.

You should never get straight to the point in a French formal letter or email, but rather use something like “Je me permets”, “J’aurais souhaité”, or one of the start lines below.

Cover letters when applying for a job

I take the liberty of writing you regarding…Je me permets de vous contacter au sujet de...
I wish to apply for the post of…which you advertised in…on…Je souhaite présenter ma candidature au poste de... que vous avez publié dans... le...
I am writing in response to your advertisement posted on…Je vous écris en réponse à votre annonce publiée le...
I am glad to apply for the advertised position, as…J'ai le plaisir de présenter ma candidature au poste annoncé, car...
I would like to apply for the job …Je souhaite postuler à l’emploi...

Letter of enquiry

I’m writing to enquire in regards to…Je vous contacte pour me renseigner sur...
I take the liberty of contacting you for an enquiry regarding…Je me permets de vous contacter pour une demande de renseignements concernant...
I’m interested in your product, and I have a question regarding…Je suis intéressé(e) par votre produit et j'ai une question concernant...
I would like to know…J'aimerais savoir...
I have a few questions regarding the description of….J'ai quelques questions relatives à la description de ...
I would appreciate if you could clarify…Je vous saurais gré de bien vouloir clarifier...

Letter of complaint

I’m writing regarding the order… placed on May 1st. Unfortunately, I still haven’t received it.Je vous écris au sujet de la commande... passée le 1er mai. Malheureusement, je ne l'ai toujours pas reçue.
I’m contacting you regarding the product…
This product fails to work properly, and I would therefore like to ask for a refund or a replacement.

Je vous contacte au sujet du produit…
Ce produit ne fonctionne pas correctement et je souhaiterais donc demander un remboursement ou un remplacement.

This letter is regarding the poor service received in your store of … this past July 29.Cette lettre concerne le service médiocre reçu dans votre magasin de ... le 29 juillet dernier.
I would like to inform you of my dissatisfaction regarding the cancellation of flight….Je tiens à vous faire part de mon mécontentement concernant l'annulation du vol....
With this letter, we would like to inform you that unfortunately, we still haven’t received the payment for the invoice nº…Par cette lettre, nous souhaitons vous informer que malheureusement, nous n'avons pas encore reçu le paiement de la facture nº....
I believe there is an error in the invoice… and I would kindly ask you to revise it as soon as possible.Je pense qu'il y a une erreur dans la facture... et je vous prie de bien vouloir la rectifier dans les plus brefs délais.
I am contacting you for the 3rd time regarding…
In the absence of an answer in the next 10 days, we will have to take legal action.

Je vous contacte pour la troisième fois concernant..
En l'absence de réponse dans les 10 jours à venir, nous nous verrons dans l'obligation de prendre des mesures juridiques.

I would like to express my disagreement regarding…Je souhaite vous faire part de mon désaccord concernant...

Note: French people are renown for complaining. It doesn’t mean they’re having a bad day or are in a bad mood. It’s just the national sport — or an art?

So, if you want to sound like a real Frenchie, learn how to complain like a French!


Letter of apology

I’m writing to apologize for the poor service you received on your recent visit to…Je vous contacte pour vous présenter mes excuses pour le mauvais service que vous avez reçu lors de votre récente visite de…
I am very sorry for the lengthy delay in sending your order.Je vous présente toute mes excuses pour le long délai d'envoi de votre commande.
First, let me apologize for my late reply.Tout d'abord, permettez-moi de vous présenter mes excuses pour ma réponse tardive.
My apologies you didn’t receive the report you requested.Je suis désolé(e) que vous n'ayez pas reçu le rapport que vous aviez demandé.
I am very sorry I could not attend the meeting.Je suis vraiment désolé(e) de ne pas avoir pu assister à la réunion.
I would like to apologize sincerely for the issues you encountered with our product.Je tiens à m'excuser sincèrement pour les problèmes que vous avez rencontrés avec notre produit.

Note: For more ways to apologize in French, check out this article. It’s the hardest word, after all.

Letter of response

I’m writing in response to your enquiry on the..Je vous écris en réponse à votre demande de renseignements sur le...
Following our phone conversation, I am contacting you….Suite à notre conversation téléphonique, je vous contacte....
I would like to follow up on your letter of March 28…Je souhaite donner suite à votre lettre du 28 mars...
To answer your order…Pour donner suite à votre commande...
I would like to address the request you sent on January 14…Je souhaite répondre à la demande que vous avez envoyée le 14 janvier...

Letter of sales / promotion

I take the liberty of contacting you to present our services.Je me permets de vous contacter pour vous présenter nos services.
As you purchased …, I believe this new product might be of interest.Comme vous avez acheté..., je pense que ce nouveau produit est susceptible de vous intéresser.
As a manager, I understand your time is valuable. So I’ll be quick: our time management software could be your best ally.En tant que responsable, je sais que votre temps est précieux. Je serai donc bref/brève : notre logiciel de gestion du temps pourrait bien être votre meilleur allié.
As any company, you’re probably looking to get more leads while optimizing costs.
We can help.

Comme toute entreprise, vous cherchez probablement à obtenir plus de prospects tout en optimisant les coûts.
Nous pouvons vous aider.

Would you like to be a client magnet?Vous rêvez de devenir un aimant à clients ?
Would you like to rank number 1 on Google? It’s easier than you think.Vous aimeriez être numéro 1 sur Google ? C'est plus facile que vous ne le pensez.
I’m writing to offer my help with…Je vous écris pour vous offrir mon aide avec...

How to sign off or end a formal letter in French

Ah, my favorite: How to sign a letter in French.

These expressions sound completely outdated and pompous, but are still widely used nowadays!

I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours faithfully.

En attendant une réponse de votre part, je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, Monsieur, l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely.

En attendant une réponse de votre part, veuillez accepter mes sentiments les meilleurs.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours faithfully/sincerely.

Dans l’attente de votre réponse, veuillez accepter l’expression de mes sentiments les meilleurs.
Warm regardsBien à vous
Kind regardsCordialement

Example of a formal letter in French

The example below is for a letter of application.

PJ : Curriculum Vitae
Objet : Candidature au poste de fromager

Madame Reblochon,

Actuellement en recherche d’emploi, je me permets de vous proposer ma candidature au poste de fromager.

En effet, mon profil correspond à l’offre d’emploi publiée sur le site Ma formation en produits laitiers m'a permis d'acquérir de nombreuses compétences parmi celles que vous recherchez. Passionné de fromage depuis tout petit, je me distingue par ma motivation, ma rigueur et mes capacités de travail en équipe.

Intégrer votre entreprise représente pour moi non seulement un objectif de carrière, mais le rêve de toute une vie.

Je me tiens à votre disposition pour toute information complémentaire, et je serais ravi de vous rencontrer pour un entretien si ma candidature retient votre attention.

Veuillez agréer, Madame, l’expression de mes sentiments les meilleurs.


How to write an informal letter in French

I’m sure some of your relatives or friends don’t use the Internet to communicate. Come on, think about it. What about your grandma, or great grandpa? Ok, maybe they don’t speak French.

Embrace the vintage trend and send a letter, or even just a postcard, to your francophone friends. You’ll make their day!

On a more serious note, you may need to send a letter or an email to a colleague.

Keep reading to learn how to write a informal letter in French!

A collection of letters from friends and family.

Informal letter greetings

You’re just a word away from a big faux pas. I’m kidding, it’s no big deal if you make a mistake in an informal letter!

However, I do recommend you to learn the greetings below to avoid any awkwardness. And, again, you’ll find more greetings in French in this article.

EnglishFrenchRelationship context
Good morningBonjourColleague/friend
Good eveningBonsoirColleague/friend
My darlingMon chéri/ma chérieWhile some friends might call each other “chéri(e)”, this is normally used in a romantic context.
My friendMon ami(e)Friends
My loveMon amourThis should only be used for a romantic relationship. You’ll find more terms of endearment in French in this article.

How to start an informal letter in French

If you wonder how to start an informal letter in French, below are a few ideas for inspiration, depending on the context.

How are you? What’s been happening...Comment vas-tu ? Quoi de neuf ?
Just reaching out to…Je voulais juste prendre des nouvelles…
I just wanted to thank you for…Je voulais juste te remercier pour...
I hope you are well. I have some great news!J'espère que tu vas bien. J'ai une bonne nouvelle !
I heard about your grandmother passing and I wanted to send you my condolences.J'ai appris le décès de ta grand-mère et je voulais te transmettre mes condoléances.
How are you? I wanted to let you know that I’ll be coming to Montreal next month!Comment vas-tu ? Je voulais te dire que je viens à Montréal le mois prochain !
I haven’t heard about you in a while, and I wanted to check on you.Je n'ai pas eu de nouvelles depuis un moment et je voulais savoir comment tu allais.

How to sign off or end an informal letter in French

Below are the most typical ways to end an informal letter in French. You’ll find many more ways to say goodbye en français in this article.

HugJe t’embrasse
Big kissesGros bisous
See you soon/Talk to you soonÀ bientôt
Best wishes to youBien à toi
I love youJe t’aime
See you very soon/Talk to you very soonÀ très vite
Kindest regardsAmitiés

Note: XOXO doesn’t mean anything in French. Try the very common “biz” — short for bisous — instead!

While emails and texts are undoubtedly convenient, written letters have a je ne sais quoi. In fact, they’ve inspired countless writers, musicians and other artists over the centuries. Check out this list of French songs about letters!

Old-fashioned, romantic, formal or not, letters are still used by many people nowadays. They can even save lives… when they arrive on time!

So, we hope this article will be useful to you at some point, hopefully not in such a drastic situation!

And remember, you’ll find plenty of vocab articles in our French blog to enhance your letters and make an impression.

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