Learn English – “Sir or Madam” vs “Madam or Sir” in formal letter


In a formal letter addressed to one or more unknown recipients, "Dear Sir or Madam" is the customary salutation. As a German native speaker, who is used to "Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren", writing "Sir" before "Madam" sounds impolite to my ear and I feel the urge to change the order. I know that I must never directly carry over conventional expressions from one language to another, but it makes me wonder:

Are there any differences between "Dear Sir or Madam" and "Dear Madam or Sir"? In particular, would the latter sound more polite or rather come across as outlandish?

Best Answer

In English, "Dear Sir or Madam" is the traditional and customary order. It does sound quaint (and sexist to some) — but's that's how it is.

You would indeed be thought "outlandish" (a good choice of term there) if you were to reverse that order.