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Formal English Greeting Etiquette

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

One concern ELLs have is how to greet people in English using appropriate words and body language. This lesson provides ELLs with phrases, etiquette tips and conversation topics to help make formal English greetings an enjoyable experience.

Formal Greetings in English

Meeting someone for the first time can be difficult, especially if you're an English language learner (ELL) and it isn't your first language. What should you say? What should you do? What's considered rude, and what's considered polite?

Formally greeting another person in English can seem intimidating. However, if you learn a few basic phrases and follow a few simple tips, you'll be able to meet anyone from a new manager at work to a government official with confidence and poise.

Formal Titles

One of the first things to think about when you meet someone is his or her title. Titles in English depend on a number of things. Take a look at the following list and see how many you already know.

Females

  • Miss: used when saying the full name of a younger woman, as in Miss Jane Smith
  • Ms.: pronounced the same as miss and used when you don't know if the woman is married, for example, Ms. Sara Jones
  • Mrs.: used when a woman has taken her husband's name, like Mrs. Williams
  • Ma'am: the most formal way to address an older woman or a woman in a position of authority

Males

  • Mr.: pronounced mister and can be used for all men, as in Mr. John Fletcher
  • Sir: a very formal way to address a male

Titles for Both Genders

  • Doctor (Dr.)
  • Professor (Prof.)

If someone is a doctor or professor, use the titles, no matter if they are a man or a woman.

Formal Greetings & Body Language

When you meet a person for the first time, your body language can have a big effect on the other person's first impression of you. Body language includes your posture (standing position), hand gestures, and your facial expressions. Follow these body language tips to make a great first impression.

  • Shake hands: In most western countries a handshake is considered the most formal way to great another person. You should extend your hand, shake firmly (but not too firmly), and then release.
  • Stand up: If you are sitting when a person enters the room, it's very important to stand up before offering your hand. Standing up is a sign of respect and also shows you are interested in meeting the other person.
  • Smile and nod slightly: Unless you are meeting someone at a funeral or other somber event, this should always be done.
  • Make eye contact: Look between a person's nose and forehead, but don't stare directly into his or her eyes.

Greeting Time

Now that you know how to address someone and how to behave, it's time to learn what to say. The following phrases are both formal and polite and can be used in most situations.

  • Hello.
  • Nice to meet you.
  • How are you?
  • It's a pleasure to meet you.
  • Pleased to meet you.
  • Good morning.
  • Good afternoon.
  • Good evening.

Formal Greetings: Examples

Dr. Jane Smith and Michael Barnes are meeting each other for the first time. Read their conversation below.

Jane Smith: Hello, I'm Dr. Jane Smith.

Michael Barnes: Nice to meet you Dr. Smith. My name is Michael Barnes.

Jane Smith: It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Barnes.

Michael Barnes: Please, call me Michael.

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