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How to write a polite letter or email in Swedish

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
How to write a polite letter or email in Swedish
It's usually best to start an email or letter with a simple 'hej'. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/Scanpix/TT

Writing letters may be a dying art to some extent, but the need to write a polite email or other message is still alive and well. What should you avoid in an email if you don't want to appear rude?


How to address the person you're writing to

Depending on where you're from, you might be used to a relatively high level of formality in letters and emails when compared to Sweden.

In German, for example, you're often expected to use every title the person you're addressing holds when addressing them in formal written correspondence, such as Sehr geehrte Frau Dr. Mustermann for a woman with the surname Mustermann who holds a doctorate.

In formal English, you're usually expected to use 'dear', followed by the full name of the person you're addressing, with or without the title: Dear (Mr.) Joe Bloggs, for example.

Swedish, in comparison, is much less formal.

Technically you can use the word bästa, followed by the full name (no title) of the person you're writing to if you've never been in contact with them before, like this: Bästa Sven Svensson, although this can appear a bit outdated. Your best bet is to just go with a simple hej, along with their first name, both in text and speech. 

Avoid directly translating the word 'dear' in English to kära in Swedish. In letter-writing, kära would be similar to addressing someone as "beloved" or "darling", which is probably not the tone you want to strike.


What if I don't know who I'm addressing?

Sometimes when you send an email, you're not sure who will be opening it at the other end. In English, you'd use 'to whom it may concern', and you can in theory translate this to till den det vederbör or till den det berör in Swedish, but it sounds a bit odd.

You could either just go for a hej without a name following it, or try and be a bit more specific about who it is you're trying to reach. If you're sending off a job application you might want the head of staff, so you could write till personalchefen. If you have a question about a course, you could start your email with till kursansvarig (to the person responsible for the course), and so on and so forth.

Avoid anything similar to 'dear Sir/Madam'. Best-case scenario, you sound a bit strange and outdated, and in the worst-case scenario, you could appear a bit patronising, especially if you are a man addressing a woman. 

Although Sweden does technically have informal and formal words for you (du/ni), the formal version (ni) has essentially fallen out of use (so for German speakers, you don't need to worry about when to duzen or siezen in Sweden).

Use 'du' unless you're sending an email to a member of the royal family - and that brings with it a whole other set of formality rules which we won't go in to here.


How should I end my email?

There are a few different ways you can end an email, but the most common ones are probably med vänlig hälsning and vänliga hälsningar, which translate literally to "(with) friendly greetings". You might see these shortened to MVH or VH, but write them out in full if you're sending an email, at least the first time you contact someone.

Other options include bästa hälsningar (similar to 'best regards') or just hälsningar (regards). 

You can also end your email with some kind of time-specific sign off, although these are usually best reserved for the final email in a conversation, for example trevlig helg (have a nice weekend) if you're writing to someone on a Friday afternoon, or ha en bra dag (have a nice day). Allt gott (literally: everything good, but more like "wish you the best") is also fine, albeit a bit less formal.

The most informal way to sign off an email or letter (which, to be honest, would probably be fine in any context), is just to write your name preceded by a forward slash: /Sven Svensson.


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