Learn English – “Dear Sir or Madam” versus “To whom it may concern”


When is it appropriate to use the terms Dear Sir or Madam and To whom it may concern? The rules I was taught state that Dear Sir or Madam should be used when you're writing a letter to a person about something that person has direct involvement in (e.g. returning a defective product to a customer service department). By the same rules, To whom it may concern would be used for situations in which the recipient is a third party to the topic of the letter (e.g. regarding a letter of reference or recommendation).

Was I taught correctly? Is the rule actually something else? Or is this one of those situations where many people have an opinion but there is no real rule?

Best Answer

I don't think there is a "black and white" rule there. With that out of the way, here's my opinion.

"To whom it may concern" is used where the letter is issued for use by someone without regards to who receives it, whether a person, or an institution etc.

"Dear Sir or Madam" is a more specific address.