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Proper Etiquette for Addressing Sympathy Cards

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 2/16/2011

When you have spent a lot of time creating the perfect sympathy card in your desktop publishing software, and you've spent equally as long a time on your verses for the card, it is vital that you pay attention to the proper etiquette for addressing sympathy cards. Learn how to do it right here.

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    So...I've Got My Card Together and I'm Ready to Print the Envelope - Help!

    Proper etiquette for addressing sympathy cards is not rocket science Before you address the sympathy cards you have spent time creating, have you given thought to the proper etiquette for addressing sympathy cards? After worrying about what to write and how to create meaningful sympathy card verses, addressing sympathy cards is one of the biggest reasons people hesitate to send these heartfelt greetings. You don't have to be intimidated by the proper etiquette for addressing. Sympathy cards follow similar rules to addressing wedding invitations.

    When you are addressing sympathy cards using your computer, there are many things you need to keep in mind including:

    • Appropriate fonts
    • Appropriate colors
    • Forms of address
    • Formally writing out an address

    Below you will find tips for each to help you avoid making a faux pas that will create a stir with the grieving and his or her family.

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    Just Because You Have a Font Called "BearPaw" Doesn't Mean You Should Use It!

    Do not use funky fonts on sympathy cards! We desktop publishing aficionados enjoy fun fonts and funky clip art. A sympathy card is not the place to show that penchant. I don't care if you've paid $100 for a pack of outstanding animal-inspired fonts; do not use fonts that are playful on a sympathy card envelope. It sends the wrong impression. Fonts like Jokerman, to the left might be great for addressing pen-pal letters or children's birthday cards, but they should never be used to address a sympathy card (or any other card for a formal occasion).

    What sorts of fonts are okay for addressing your sympathy card? You may want to use a font that resembles calligraphy. Thus, consider using Mistral, Segoe Script, Lucinda Handwriting, or Vivaldi for the address.

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    No Rainbows on Your Address, Please

    Do not use bright colors on your sympathy card envelope Now that you've realized that you shouldn't use that shamrock font you downloaded last year, there's another word concerning the appearance of the address for your envelope. Do not use garish, bright, or otherwise loud colors for the address of a sympathy card. If you're out of black ink, please go purchase a new ink cartridge. The only appropriate colors for an address for a sympathy card are black, navy blue, and burgandy.

    Black ink truly is the best (and safest) choice, especially since some printers can skew the color a little bit.

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    Forms of Address Can Help Keep You in Line

    It should go without saying that you should not write the person's nickname when addressing the card - no matter how close you are. Proper etiquette for addressing sympathy cards requires that you write out the person's full name - instead of Joe, use Joseph; instead of Abby, use Abigail.

    Addressing sympathy cards can also call into question how to formally address others. Here are some tips:

    • If you do not know whether a woman prefers Mrs. or Ms., use Ms. - unless the woman is a widow, then you will want to use Mrs.
    • Only use "Miss" for ladies under 18 years old
    • When addressing the card to a couple, use Mr and Mrs. Jack Somebody or Mr. Jack Somebody and Ms. Jane Somebody. Never use Ms. combined with Mr.
    • If the person holds military rank or political office, use "The Honorable Mr. Jack Somebody"
    • When the recipient is a doctor or holds a Ph.D., address it Dr. Jane Somebody

    If the position held by the individual you are sending to is other than those above, you'll want to double check with a reliable source such as the one provided at the end of this article to ensure you've addressed it properly. In some situations, you will use Reverend Jack Somebody and Rabbi Jane Somebody while in others you will use Mr. Jack Somebody.

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    Spell Out All Abbreviated Words in the Address...Unless It's Mister or Mrs.

    Finally, when creating your envelope, you'll want to spell out abbreviated words. For instance, St. will become Street, and you will spell out California instead of using the state abbreviation. It's important to be sure that you leave yourself enough room by selecting a font size that allows you to have good proportions on your envelope.


    Post, P. (2004) Emily Post's Etiquette 17th ed. New York: HarperResource.

    "Forms of Address"