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7 Ways You’re Using “To Whom it May Concern” Incorrectly

There are times when we need to write important letters to people who we don't know, and who may be in positions of authority (for example, HR managers and future bosses). Here's how to begin letters and emails with this oldie-but-goody formal salutation.

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To Whom This May Concern:

The reason we say “it” instead of “this” is confusing, but once you learn why it makes a lot of sense. Both are pronouns, but “this” refers to a noun that’s already been spoken about in conversation, whereas “it” would be used at the first mention of a subject. Since “To Whom It May Concern” is the very beginning of a correspondence, we use “It.” Don’t miss the proven secret to writing the perfect cover letter.

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To Whomever It May Concern:

The question about whether to use who, whom, whoever, and whomever, is one that even the savviest grammar experts struggle with. In this context, “Whom” is correct over “Whomever.” “Whomever” is an object pronoun, and “Whom” is the object of a verb or a preposition. In the case of “To Whom It May Concern,” “whom” wins!

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To Who It Concerns:

“Who” is a subject, and “Whom” is the object of a verb or a preposition. Because the subject in this salutation is “It,” “Whom” is the correct choice.

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To Those Who Are Concerned:

Letters are usually addressed to a single person or entity rather than a group of people. Think about it like this—if you send a letter to a generic group of people, it’s less likely to end up in the right hands than if you send it to a single person. Even if the single person is generic (Whom), you can avoid the “spectator syndrome” where no one takes responsibility for your concern, since no one specific is called out. If your letter is marked to one person, it’s far more likely to end up in the right hands. Find out 14 things HR departments won’t tell you about your resume but you’ll definitely want to know.

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To Whome It May Concern:

This is a simple error of basic spelling! “Whome” isn’t going to be correct, not in this day and age, at least. Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, used “whome” when he was writing in Old English back in the 14th century, but it has since been cast into the realm of the antiquated.

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The colon versus the comma

Which punctuation should you use at the end of your salutation? When you use “To Whom It May Concern” follow it with a colon rather than a comma. Why? Because it’s a business letter, and considered to be more formal. Commas work better for personal correspondence.

Formal:

To Whom It May Concern:

or

Dear Professor Rodriguez:

 

Casual:

Dear Mom,

or

Hi, Rachel,*

*note: see that extra comma in between the Hi and the Rachel? An English teacher will give you bonus points for knowing that this comma should be there. So… it’s less formal but very grammatical.

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The bottom line

If you’re writing a formal letter to a company (say, lodging a formal complaint); writing a letter of recommendation; or reaching out to a human resources department, it’s perfectly fine to say “To Whom It May Concern.” Consider this, though: Whenever you can find the name of a real human being, that’s always going to be a better bet. Why? Your concern will be more likely to end up in the right hands. In the era of the Internet, it’s not that hard to find the correct spellings, job titles, and email addresses of specific individuals. You’ll want to avoid these cover letter mistakes that could cost you an interview.