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How to Write a Letter in German

Instructor: Samantha Green

Sam is from the UK but lives in the USA, she has taught college German and has both a bachelor's and master's degree in German Studies

Nowadays much of our correspondence is done electronically, but that doesn't mean letters don't still get written. Today's lesson will teach you how to write both formal and informal letters in German.

How to Write a German Letter

Once upon a time, people would wait weeks, months, and even years for letters from loved ones, pen friends, or associates to arrive in the mail. While we might not use them as much as the old days, when you're living in Germany it's likely you will receive letters about services you've signed up for such as the internet, cell phone service, or banking. When you leave the country, these are all things you will need to cancel, and in Germany, this has to be done through the mail. So as you can see, being able to write ein Brief (pronounced iyn breef: 'a letter') in German is super important.

This lesson guides you through the whole process so that by the end you will be a correspondence writing wizard at Hermione level.

Translation: I like to write letters.
ich schreibe gern

Formatting the Envelope

First up is addressing the envelope. You might be thinking 'surely this is obvious' but you'd be wrong. The German way is different from the USA and some other countries in Europe.

The recipient's address is placed at the bottom-right corner of the envelope.

  • The first line is marked An ('to').
  • On the second line, Germans will place the person's title, such as Frau (pronounced frow: 'Mrs.') or Doktor (pronounced DOCK-toar: 'doctor').
  • On the third line we write the person's name.
  • Then on the fourth line comes die Strasse (pronounced dee STRAHS-seh: 'the street name') and die Hausnummer (pronounced dee HOUWS-nuhm-mehr: 'the house number').
  • The fifth line is for die Postleitzahl (pronounced dee POHST-liyt-zahl: 'the zip code') and der Bestimmungsort (pronounced BEH-stihm-mungs-ort: 'the town or city').
  • If you're send something internationally, the sixth line is saved for the country.

Here's an example to make it a little clearer:

An

Frau

Ilona Cerowska

Mariannestrasse 75

7752 Berlin

Deutschland

The Absender (pronounced AHB-sehndehr: 'the sender's address'), shortened to Abs, is placed in the top-left corner, like in the USA. It is formatted the same way as the recipient's address, except you switch An for Abs.

Formatting the Letter

Header

For formal letters, in the letter itself, you would include a header. First list your address and then underneath write the recipient's. These would be in the same format as the envelope. Formal letters also need to include the place the letter is coming from, then a comma, and then the date. This needs to be right aligned on the page. Remember that Europe writes the date as day, month, year. In letters, this may be written a couple of ways:

  • Berlin, 26.4.2017
  • Berlin, Dienstag den 26. April, 2017

Example of formal letter opening.
ein Brief

For informal letters there is no need for a header, so you can skip straight to the next step.

Greetings

Here are the key German letter greetings. We will start with the more casual greetings then move up to the more polite ones. As a reminder, in German, an adjective in front of a noun must agree with the noun's gender (-e for a female and -er for a male ).

Informal

  • Hallo Christian (Hi Christian)
  • Liebe Sara (Dear Sara)
  • Lieber Max (Dear Max)

Formal

  • Lieber Herr Lehmann (Dear Mr. Lehmann)
  • Liebe Frau Helmholtz (Dear Mrs. Helmholz)
  • Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren (Dear Sir/Madam)
  • Sehr geehrte Frau Präsidentin (Dear Madam President)
  • Sehr geehrter Herr Professor Futterknecht (Dear Professor Futterknecht)

Because of the need for gender-specific endings, you can't simply say 'Dear Sara and Max'; it has to be 'Dear Sara, Dear Max' (Liebe Sara, Lieber Max,).

In German, we don't capitalize the first letter of the first sentence following the greeting because it is seen as a continuation from the opening greeting:

Liebe Sara, (Dear Sara)

wir hoffen alles geht gut bei dir. (We hope everything is well with you.)

Closings

There are also informal and formal ways to end a letter in German.

Informal

  • Leibe Grüße (Best wishes)
  • Viele Grüße (Best wishes)
  • Gruß (Regards)
  • Deine Charlotte (Your Charlotte)
  • Deiner Markus (Your Markus)

Formal

  • Mit freundlichen Grüßen (Yours sincerely)
  • Mit freundlichem Gruß (Kind regards)

In German we don't need a comma following the closing:

Viele Grüße (Best wishes)

Oma und Opa (Grandma and Grandpa)

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