If I had a dime for every time I was asked whether to write yours sincerely or yours faithfully at the end of a letter I’d be able to take a holiday.
So let’s clear this up. In 1928, H. W. Fowler explored this area and clarified as follows:
- Yours faithfully (to unknown person on business)
- Yours truly (to slight acquaintance)
- Yours very truly (ceremonious but cordial)
- Yours sincerely (in invitations and friendly but not intimate letters)
However, in the modern day there are slight variations between British and American usage.
“Yours faithfully” is used when the letter is not specifically addressed to an individual, for example, “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam”. “Yours faithfully” is used far less in American English, although you may see it from time to time.
When you do know the name of the recipient close the letter with “Yours sincerely”.
“Yours truly” is the US equivalent of “Yours faithfully”. So you would close a letter that begins “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam” with “Yours truly”.
When one does know the name of the recipient, Americans tend to reverse the British usage and close with “Sincerely yours”.
NOTE: You may see letters that simply close with “Sincerely”. In the British world of professional writing this is considered poor practice. However, in the US this has become an acceptable closing format.
Another aspect people get confused over is knowing which words to capitalise, and you will often see writers capitalise both. Logically this just doesn’t make sense, and in practice it isn’t the done thing. Only capitalise the first word, as follows:
- Yours faithfully,
- Yours sincerely,
- Sincerely yours,