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I have been writing quite a few e-mails recently and I feel that I want to expand my vocabulary regarding acceptable phrases to use both at the beginning and end of an e-mail. When I say informal, I don't mean that I'm writing to a close friend (in which case no-one cares what words I use anyway), but rather to acquaintances, teachers I'm familiar with, staff at the university and so on. So, what I'm after are Chinese phrases such as "dear xxx", "best regards" and so on.

I have searched for this online, but I find it very hard to gauge the formality level of the phrases I've found. Most of them seem way too formal and being overly polite is sometimes a way of being impolite. Therefore, I'd be grateful if people who might answer my question also include some kind of information about when and with whom they would use a specific phrase. Thank you!

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This is a great question. –  Stumpy Joe Pete Sep 19 '12 at 15:08
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This link from Baidu may be useful. –  Question Overflow Sep 20 '12 at 14:26
    
A friend wrote this in an e-mail to me just now: 敬祝 順心 [name] –  Olle Linge Sep 23 '12 at 16:38
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Here are a selection that I have received via email from friends and family:

一切顺利 Yīqiè shùnlì - Wish everything goes smoothly

一切平安 Yīqiè píng'ān - Wish every thing is peaceful

一切好 Yīqiè hǎo - Wish everything is good

回头再聊 Huítóu zài liáo - Talk to you next time

祝你一路平安 Zhù nǐ yīlù píng'ān - (For those going on travel) Wish your trip goes smoothly / safely

保重 Bǎozhòng - Look after yourself

代我向你们全家问好 Dài wǒ xiàng nǐmen quánjiā wènhǎo - Send my regards to your family

And, even just 谢谢 or 再见

等你有空再回信 Děng nǐ yǒu kòng zài huíxìn - (Something nice to say to a busy friend) Reply to me when you have time

For the equivalent of "Dear xxx" use "亲爱的 xxx". I will leave it to others to comment on how informal the use of 亲爱的 is as I haven't used my Chinese in writing formal letters so I don't know if it is very informal or it is used in semi-formal situations like the English Dear.

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"亲爱的" is used exclusively to address your loved ones, not anyone. –  Question Overflow Sep 20 '12 at 14:25
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Is this really correct? I have numerous e-mails from people I have never met that open with this line. Here are two examples, the first from my university and the second from the TOP test committee: 1) 親愛的大家 2) 親愛的考生您好 –  Olle Linge Sep 20 '12 at 14:33
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No, 亲爱的 can be used widely, almost anywhere that "dear" is appropriate in an English letter. Even in business letters you'll see as many 亲爱的 as 尊敬的. In letter to elder person (e.g. teacher), 亲爱的 can be used and implies a closer relationship than 敬爱的. In letter to a friend, 亲爱的 is extremely common, regardless of gender. –  NS.X. Sep 20 '12 at 18:47
    
Also, for anyone who has used Taobao, all of the chatbots for customer inquiries say "亲". –  Stumpy Joe Pete Sep 20 '12 at 22:33
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It could be due to western influence. Traditionally, "亲爱的" isn't used loosely because it can create misunderstandings if used inappropriately, example a guy writing to a female friend. An institution using such "修饰词" in a letter is ok but on a personal level, I tend to avoid unless the person means very much to me. Unlike English letters, "修饰词" can be, and is often, omitted in Chinese letters. –  Question Overflow Sep 21 '12 at 3:24
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In Chinese culture, being over polite is never too much only except for between really close friends. Especially when getting along with an elder person, you should keep being formal and polite until you're really really close with that person. So even writing to a person that I'm familiar with, have a good relationship with and maybe hang out together a little bit, I still prefer formal and polite words.

I found this link that explains the conventions very well. To cite the essence,

2 .问候语

  第二行开头空两格写问候语。

  运用礼貌语言,使收信人感到亲切,受到尊敬。

  长者多问候身体,中年人多问候事业和家庭,青年人多问候爱情和学业,少年儿童多祝愿健康成长。

4 .结尾

  要根据收信人的身份,写表示祝愿的话,以示礼貌。

  一般性的祝词“此致”“敬礼”,格式是另起一行空两格写“此致”,“敬礼”下一行顶格写。

  给长者的信往往写“祝您健康长寿”,给朋友写“祝工作顺利”,给晚辈写“祝你学习进步”。

My own experience is, when in doubt, be as polite as possible. When I feel obligated (by the culture) to be polite but I don't feel comfortable being too polite with that person, I would use formulaic 您好 as 问候语 and 此致敬礼 as 结尾.

Edit: Translation of the citation (with my notes in parenthesis) as per ask. I prefer to translate word-by-word with little embellishment, which may sound stiffy but preserves the sense of Chinese culture.

2 . Greetings

Greetings are on the second line (first line is title) with indentation of two spaces.

Use polite language to make the recipient feel warm and respectful.

For senior recipients, send regards to health; for middle-aged person, career and family; for young person, love life (only appropriate if the sender is an elder of the recipient) and studying; for children, health and striving.

4 . Ending

To show politeness, say some blessing words based on the recipient's identity (social position and relationship with the sender).

A general one is “此致”“敬礼” (similar to "best wishes" in English; literal translation is "hereby","salute"). The format convention is, “此致” is on a new line with an indentation of two spaces; “敬礼” is on the next line without any indentation.

People usually use “祝您健康长寿” (wish you healthy and longevity) for seniors, “祝工作顺利” (wish you a successful career) for friends and “祝学习进步” (wish you progress in your studies) for juniors.

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could you please add the translation of your cite? –  ncasas Sep 19 '12 at 20:40
    
@ncasas, added. –  NS.X. Sep 19 '12 at 22:10
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