Mailing a Letter: English for Everyday Activities

by | Nov 20, 2023

Mailing a Letter: English for Everyday Activities

Discover important vocabulary and expressions related to the everyday activity of mailing a letter in the United States. 

Video Transcript

Hi, my name’s Mark and this is English for Everyday Activities.

In today’s world, we have more ways to communicate than ever: e-mails, instant messages, direct messages—with all these options you might wonder if there’s still a place for the simple paper letter.

Well, the answer is yes! In many cases, sending a paper letter is the best or only option. And today on English for Everyday Activities, we’ll talk about how to address and send a paper letter.

To mail a letter in the United States, you need three main things: You need an envelope, you need a card or a letter to go inside the envelope, and you need a postage stamp. Today we’re going to talk about how to address an envelope for the U.S. postal system.

Your envelope will have three main areas: in the center is your delivery address.  This is the address of the person you want to send your letter to.  In the top left corner goes your return address. This is your address. If the postal system has any difficulty delivering your letter, they will return your letter to the return address. And finally in the top right corner is where you put your postage stamp

Addresses in the United States have six main parts. I’ll tell you what the six parts are, and then we’ll talk about each of them more specifically. 

On the first line of your address goes the name of the person or people you want to send your letter to. The second line is for the house number and the street name, and the third line holds the city name, the state abbreviation, and the ZIP code.

If you’re sending an informal letter or thank you card, you can simply use the first and last name of the person you’re sending your letter to: For example, Bob Smith.

For more formal letters, the etiquette is a little more complicated and can change in different parts of the United States. For men, the general rule is to add the title Mr. in front of the first name. Mr. stands for Mister, as in Mister Bob Smith.

For women, the etiquette is even more complicated, depending on if she is married, or unmarried, and her personal preference. Generally speaking, unmarried women younger than sixteen years old take the title ‘Miss’, as in Miss Jane Smith. Married women may choose the prefix Mrs., which stands for Mrs. as in Mrs. Jane Smith.

Some women prefer the title Ms., which is pronounced “Mizz,” as in Ms. Jane Smith. And this works for both married and unmarried women. When in doubt, Ms. is a good way to go, but you can also ask your friend what they prefer.

The second line of your address is for the house number and street name. House numbers are typically three- or four- or five-digit numbers, and they are unique for each address. Street names can be a series of numbers or an actual name, such as Main or Elm.

Following this name,  you might expect to see the word Street, but there’s actually a lot of variety. I’ll put some of the common street names to the side here, together with their abbreviations. For more formal letters, you should write out the full street name. For informal letters, you can use the abbreviation.

The third line of your address is for the city, state, and ZIP code. City names can be followed by a comma, and then comes the two-letter state abbreviation that’s unique for each state. I live in Washington State, and our state abbreviation is WA. California: CA. New York: NY. You can visit the postal service website for a full list of state abbreviations.

After your state abbreviation comes the ZIP code. This is a five-digit code that helps direct your letter to the recipient more quickly.

After you’ve completed your delivery address and return address, you’re ready to put the stamp on your envelope. It’s a good idea to wait until after you complete the addresses just in case you make a mistake; wouldn’t want to waste that stamp! You can buy a first-class stamp for 66 cents at your post office, or a convenient book of stamps at any grocery store.

Simply peel off your first-class stamp and attach it in the upper-right corner of your envelope. Your letter is ready to go!

I’m Mark, and this has been English for Everyday Activities. Thanks for joining us; see you again next time!

Thanks for watching this English for Everyday Activities video for Mailing a Letter.

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To build your everyday vocabulary, I recommend you pick up a copy of The Heinle Picture Dictionary, 2nd Edition (available through this Amazon link)

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Mark Pedrin

Mark Pedrin


Mark is an English instructor and communication specialist. He loves helping people develop language skill and insight so that they can reach their personal and professional goals.