Writing an email in French is an important skill to have in most professional settings. It is also a common task on French language proficiency exams such as the DELF B2. If you’re a non-native French speaker, you may be feeling a little intimidated by the prospect of writing an email in a language that is not your first just like I was. But fear not! With a little bit of guidance and some practice, you’ll be writing emails in French like a pro in no time. In this post, we’ll go over the basics of how to structure and write an email in French, as well as offer some essential tips and tricks for crafting a professional and effective email in French, regardless of your current level of proficiency. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!
The Structure of a French Email
The structure of a French email is similar to that of an email in other languages. It typically includes a subject line, a greeting, the main content of the email, and a closing sentence. While emails in French are generally less formal than letters, the level of formality depends on the purpose of the email and the sender’s relationship with the recipient. For instance, an email to a professional colleague would be more formal than one to a friend or family member. This makes it important to vary the degree of formality of the email based on its context.
The Subject Line
An email in French always begins with a subject line known as the objet. This serves as a brief summary of the main topic or purpose of the email. The subject should be concise and clearly state the purpose of the letter, as it helps the recipient understand the context and significance of the letter.
In addition to providing a summary of the main topic, the subject can also help the recipient prioritize the email and decide how to allocate time for reading and responding to it. For example, a subject such as “Demande de congé” would indicate to the recipient that the email is related to a request for time off, and they may prioritize it accordingly.
All good emails begin with a greeting addressed to the recipient. There are several ways to greet someone in an email depending on the level of formality and your relationship with the recipient. If you are writing to a colleague or someone you do not know well, you can start the email with:
- “Bonjour” (= Hello).
- “Madame, Monsieur” (= Madam, Sir).
- “Cher monsieur” (= Dear Sir).
- “Chère madame” (= Dear Madam).
- “Monsieur le Directeur/Proviseur/Maire etc.” (= To the director/principal/mayor etc.). Use this if you know the person’s title.
Alternatively, if you are writing an email addressed to a friend or family member, you can use more casual greetings such as:
- “Salut” (= Hi).
- “Coucou” (Hi there).
It is also common to include the recipient’s first name after the greeting, such as “Bonjour Marie” (= Hello Marie). You can also start an email by stating the recipient’s name in more informal emails.
The Body of the Email
After a short greeting, you can address the main focus of your email. When writing the body paragraphs of a French email, it is important to keep the purpose of the email in mind and to use a clear and concise writing style. Here are some tips for writing the body of a French email:
- Start each paragraph with a clear introductory sentence that introduces the main idea of the paragraph.
- Use transitions between paragraphs to connect ideas and maintain a logical flow.
- Use bullet points or numbered lists to organize information and make it easier to read.
- Use active voice instead of passive voice to make your writing more direct and engaging.
- Avoid using jargon or technical language unless it is necessary for the purpose of the email.
- Use correct grammar and spelling, and proofread your email before sending it to ensure that it is error-free.
Thanking someone is a common part of the end of an email. There are numerous basic expressions that can be used to do this using the word “merci”, such as:
- “Merci” (= Thank you).
- “Merci beaucoup” (= Thank you very much).
- “Merci pour ton/votre aide” (= Thank for your help).
- “Merci d’avance” (= Thank you in advance).
- “Merci de m’aider” (= Thank you for helping me).
Closing an Email
Closing an email with a greeting is important because it makes the ending feel less abrupt and more polite. In formal settings, there are many ways to do this, such as saying:
- “Cordialement” (= Cordially).
- “Bien à vous” (= Yours).
- Veuillez agréer, Monsieur/Madame, mes salutations distinguées (= Please accept, Madam, my sincere greetings…).
Most informal ways of closing an email use the word bisous or some variation of it like bises (= kisses) or gros bises (= big kisses). Je t’embrasse (= love lit. I hug you) is also a common expression to end an email.
Saying goodbye as one would in a normal conversation using the following expressions is also commonly used:
- “Au revoir” (= Goodbye).
- “À demain” (= See you tomorrow).
- “À bientôt” (= See you soon).
Using “Tu” or “Vous” in an Email
In French, “tu” and “vous” are two different ways to address someone. “Tu” is the informal singular pronoun, equivalent to “you” in English when addressing one person informally. “Vous” is the formal singular and plural pronoun, equivalent to “you” in English when addressing one person formally or more than one person.
The choice between “tu” and “vous” depends on the level of formality of the email and the relationship between the sender and the recipient. In general, “tu” is used for close friends and family, while “vous” is used for professional colleagues, superiors, or strangers. It is always safer to use “vous” when in doubt, as using “tu” with someone who expects to be addressed formally can come across as rude or presumptuous.
For example, you would use “tu” when writing to a close friend or family member, such as “Je suis content de te voir bientôt” (= I’m happy to see you soon). On the other hand, you would use “vous” when writing to a professional colleague or superior, such as “Je vous remercie de votre collaboration” (= Thank you for your collaboration).