One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
Invitations and RSVPs
Today, many events come together through word of mouth, but certain occasions still call for written invitations and replies. Written invitations signal to guests that the occasion is special, not just a routine gathering. And replying in kind is a great way to express your gratitude for your host's forethought and hospitality.
This page includes guidelines for writing and replying to invitations, along with examples.
Most invitations are sent out as cards, but writing your invitation in letter format often adds a more personal touch and allows you to add more detail about the event. This page offers examples of invitations in both card and letter format. If you opt to use letter format, follow the standard formatting guidelines for how to lay out a letter.
Is the event formal or informal?
Formal invitations are standard for events that call for formal or cocktail dress, such as weddings. Addresses, dates, and times are typically spelled out. A formal invitation card should use third person (e.g., they, their) rather than first (e.g., I, we, my, our) and include the full names of the event's hosts. Letters may use first person, typically we, but should still maintain a formal tone. For social invitations, you may follow modified block format and omit the recipient’s address.
Informal invitations are appropriate for more casual events, such as a picnic or a baby shower. They are usually written in a conversational tone. Informal invitation cards may be written in first person.
What information do I need to include?
When you send an invitation, state the purpose, location, date, and time of the event, and include the host's contact information (address and phone number; email optional) in order for guests to RSVP. You should also indicate any information that guests need to be aware of in advance, such as suggested attire or items to bring (e.g., for a BYOB event).
Finally, you may wish to provide a reply card and envelope for guests to RSVP. If so, you do not need to include RSVP information on the invitation itself. On the reply card, you may note a suggested RSVP date in order to ensure that you have an accurate head count before finalizing your preparation for the event.
Replying to invitations
Some invitations have enclosed cards for guests to reply. If your invitation includes a reply card, use it to RSVP rather than composing your own letter. If your invitation does not include a reply card, write a brief note that follows the same style and tone as the invitation. If possible, write a handwritten response using stationery rather than typing a letter.
For formal invitation cards, you may reply using a similar structure as the invitation. If the invitation is written in the third person, your reply should be written accordingly. Otherwise, follow the standard guidelines for how to lay out a letter, according to the formality of the invitation. For replies to social invitations, you may follow modified block format and omit the recipient's address.
Whether you plan to attend the event or not, be sure to thank the host for inviting you. If you must decline the invitation, you may include a brief explanation of why you may not attend (e.g., a previous commitment, death in the family), but keep it short. It's courteous to respond promptly to invitations, so that the host will know well in advance how many guests to expect.
See an example of a reply card (pdf).
Examples of RSVPs
See examples of responses to a formal invitation card (pdf).
Back to Letters and invitations.
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