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Invitations: Sending and Receiving

People are almost always pleased to receive an invitation, and they are especially pleased to receive one that is properly composed and presented.


First, let's have a look at some suggestions that apply to the entire invitation scene.

Mind Your P's and Q's

Print directions in a similar stock as the invitation and also in its style. If you enclose a map, keep it as uncluttered and clear as possible. Sometimes, including too much information only causes confusion.

Faux Pas

Leave the “Jrs” behind. When responding to an invitation from a couple whose name is followed by Jr., II, or III, leave out these designations if you leave out the host's given name. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Gallagher III becomes Mr. and Mrs. Gallagher.

My mother would rather have a rattlesnake bite her than include a reply card in an invitation, but that's another generation. These days, the RSVP card is a fixture in most social situations. The reply card evolved because so many people stopped replying formally and in writing, to invitations without one.

The practical host must decide whether or not to use the reply cards, and either decision is acceptable. However, experience shows that it is far less stressful to use them than to mount a telephone campaign before the event to find out how many people are coming.

Reply cards follow the same style as the invitation and are made of the same stock. If you do not enclose a reply card with your invitation and you need to know who's coming, be sure to mark the invitation RSVP and provide an address or a telephone number.

When responding to a formal invitation that does not contain a reply card, follow the same general form as the invitation. Write by hand and in the third person. Use conservative stationery or engraved personal stationery. You can use a personal letter sheet, a half sheet, or an informal. Couples responding should use a Mr. and Mrs. informal.


When you decline an invitation, briefly state the reason for the refusal in your reply. Two standard reasons to refuse an invitation are a previous engagement and absence from town. Don't give illness as the reason because that is a signal to the host to inquire about your health. If you know the host, call to explain your regrets more fully. Otherwise, a detailed explanation is unnecessary and “regrets she is unable to accept” will suffice.

Informal Invitations

Written on personal notepaper or on an informal or correspondence card, informal invitations are nonetheless written in the third person, but are less structured in form than truly formal invitations.

Informal invitations come in various forms. For instance, you can send a fill-in invitation that you buy in a card shop. You can write on informal notepaper or on a folded note with a monogram. On a note with a monogram, start writing on the front if the monogram is placed to one side; start inside, under the fold if the monogram is in the middle.

You can reply by phone if the invitation includes a telephone number. Otherwise, respond on your own stationery—either plain, informals, or correspondence cards.

If the invitation says “Regrets Only,” you need not respond if you can attend. However, it's still a good idea to let the host know you're planning to attend.

Formal Invitations

The following examples of formal invitations apply to both handwritten and engraved invitations.

If the dinner intends to honor a specific person, the phrase to use is “at 8 P.M. to meet Harold Stasson.” Some dinner invitations specify “dinner and dancing.”

RSVP invitations require an immediate reply.

These days a telephone reply is acceptable. However, meeting your host on the street or at the office and saying you will attend does not constitute a formal acceptance. You must still write or call.

More on: Manners


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette © 2004 by Mary Mitchell. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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