Closings convey relationship and level of formality

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 24, 2012 - 2:30 PM

Wei Li writes: "There's a question confuses me for quite a long time. When I write to my group people, by the end of the letter, I need to close the letter by regards, best regards, kind regards, warm regards, best wishes, your sincere ,your truely. I'll appreciated if you can tell me the differences between all these phases."

Wei Li, whose spoken English is excellent, is a Chinese tour guide. She goes by "Julie" for the sake of the non-Chinese-speaking people in her groups, people like me. My wife and I had the pleasure of being in Wei Li's warm, capable care for two weeks while we toured China.

As I discovered when studying French during my junior year in Aix-en-Provence, one of the many advantages of translingual communication is that it offers insights into your own language as well as into the language of the people you are encountering. Wei Li's question made me think about the subtle differences in the various ways we close our correspondence.

Here's what I told her about our closings, from formal to personal:

Sincerely: Standard close on paper; also fine for e-mail in business correspondence (but too formal for your messages to your tour group members).

Yours sincerely: Slightly more personal but still formal.

Yours truly: Somewhat more informal, but as a matter of conventional use, more formal than the words suggest.

Best regards, kind regards, warm regards, best wishes: Friendly, but still somewhat formal.

Regards: Standard close for e-mail, appropriate for friends (and fine for messages to your tour group members).

Yours: Informal, friendly.

Take care: Appropriate for close friends and family (and fine for tour group members, but after, not during, your tours, when you are emphasizing continuing relationship rather than conveying necessary information).

Ciao, cheers: Friendly, playful, hip.

Love: Appropriate for very close friends and family members.

Shan Hu, one of our four local guides, writes: "here's my question. is there any word or phrase in English (like what's wrong & what's wrong with you) which easily by misunderstanding leads to offensive meaning?"

Shan Hu, whose names mean "kindhearted" and "tiger," naturally goes by "Tony." Like any sophisticated communicator, Shan Hu understands that words often take on non-literal, idiomatic meanings that might be crude or offensive. Asking a tour group member, "What's wrong with you?" is very different from asking, "What's wrong?" meaning "Are you having a problem that I can help you resolve?"

Falling into that category are questions such as "What's your problem?" and "What's the matter with you?" and statements such as "You're a trying person" when the intended meaning is "You try hard."

Here's where I need your help. For the life of me I can't think of other examples. If you can, please send them my way.

Meanwhile, take care, Wei Li and Shan Hu. Please give my regards (not my kind regards) to Charlie, Nick and Jack, who also who did a wonderful job of taking care of us. We tried not to be too trying.

Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at wilbe004@umn.edu. His website is www.wilbers.com.

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