How to write a formal letter in French

How to write a formal letter in French

by Audrey Sivadier

Updated November 9, 2022

Do you want to accompany your CV with a letter, or claim a refund for a product and you don’t know how to write a letter in French? Yes, you will have to go through the delicate task of writing a formal letter. And when it comes to administration and formal written contacts, the French have very strict (and somewhat rigid) rules. Here are the codes to respect, to make sure your letter will be read all the way through!

Start your 7-day free trial

The format of a formal French letter

The mail you write should have the shape of an official letter with a French format. That is, even from a distance or blurred, you should be able to recognise the different parts of the formal letter.
At the top left, you will write your first name, last name, then your address below and finally your telephone number and email address.
Then, at the top right, you should write the name and contact details of the addressee.
When you’ve finished this, you’ll still have two things to do to get that formal silhouette: below your contact details, you’ll have to write “objet” (subject) and summarise in a non-verbal sentence the reason why you want to write. And finally, you will only have to write on the next line, but on the right: the place and date you write, like this:

french letter example

Starting your French letter

The first thing you need to know is how to address the letter in French. This part is called the “formule d’appel” (calling card). If you know the name of the person you are addressing, you can begin your letter by writing in the centre: M. Dupont or Mme Martin. So, “Monsieur” or “Madame” followed by the last name of the person you are writing to.

If you don’t know, as is often the case when you send your CV or a complaint to an after-sales service, just write, still in the centre of the letter: “Madame, Monsieur,”.

But if you are addressing a person with a high professional position, it is absolutely necessary to mention this and write: “Monsieur le Ministre”, “Madame la Présidente”.

Then, in what is called le corps de la lettre (“the body of the letter”), you must explain in the first paragraph the context of your letter or your claim, for example, what happened in order for you to write this letter.

  • Actuellement… – and you can talk about your personal or business situation depending on the context
  • Faisant suite à notre conversation téléphonique… – Further to our telephone conversation…
  • Suite à votre courrier du (+date) – further to your mail of

After you have explained why you want to write, you can skip a line and start a new paragraph by clearly stating your request.

  • C’est pour cela qu’aujourd’hui je vous écris pour… – That is why I am writing to you today to…
  • Je me permets de vous écrire concernant…  – regarding…
  • C’est pour toutes ces raisons que je m’adresse à vous pour… – It is for all these reasons that I am addressing you to…
  •  Je vous demande de + infinitive  – I’m asking you to…
  • Je vous saurai gré de + infinitive – I’ll be grateful for…

As you will have noticed, it is unthinkable to write a letter in French and to use anything other than “vous”. We will keep the “tu” for texting family or friends, and the “vous” remains the only way to address your recipient in a letter.

If you have a problem with a product or service (such as a telephone service) that doesn’t conform to what was sold, you can even make threats, such as:

  • Si vous ne remplacez pas ce produit dans les meilleurs délais, je serai obligée d’en informer l’association des consommateurs. – If you do not replace this product as soon as possible, I will be obliged to inform the consumer association.

Start your 7-day free trial

Ending your French letter

This is the part that is called the formule de politesse (“greeting”). Yes, it’s a bit weird, even if you just threatened them, you have to end with a polite greeting!

Before you do that, you have to be open to dialogue and you can add a sentence such as:

  • Je me tiens à votre disposition pour tout complément d’information. – I am at your disposal for any further information.

And then you must absolutely end with an extremely long but coded polite sentence:

  • En attendant une réponse de votre part, je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, Monsieur,
  • En attendant une réponse de votre part, veuillez accepter
  • Dans l’attente de… veuillez accepter
  • l’expression de mes salutations distinguées.
  • mes sentiments distingués.
  • mes sentiments les meilleurs.
    – I look forward to hearing from you, Madam and Sir, with my best regards

All that remains is for you to sign at the bottom right-hand corner of the sheet, possibly with your initials or the initial of your first name and your surname in full. Ideally, your letter should not exceed one side of paper.

You are now ready to write letters in French! But don’t torture yourself too much while writing this letter. They say that your addressee will only give it an average of 6 seconds of attention! Oh la la!

Start your 7-day free trial

Audrey has been a French teacher for more than ten years now, and a cheese-lover all her life. She comes from the west of France, and after living 2 years in Spain and 4 years in Oxford in England, she has just settled in the heart of France, in Auvergne, a land of cheese, rugby, Michelin tyres and ancient volcanoes. Audrey definitely prefers the first one. She speaks French, Spanish and English, and just started German, nothing better to understand her students who tremble at the French grammar! When she is not teaching, she tries to find time to cook or sing in a choir. She loves to invite people to her house to feed them and trap them with musical blind tests designed and adapted to her guests! Find out more about her on her website and LinkedIn.

Related articles