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In English, while it is acceptable to end a less formal letter with "Best regards", when writing officially it seems appropriate to use a more formal closing, such as "Yours truly" or "Sincerely yours".

Is there such a formal equivalent in Italian, or "Cordiali saluti" is acceptable when writing to, say, a public official?

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Welcome to Italian.SE, @mustaccio! – Charo Jan 13 at 6:58
up vote 10 down vote accepted

According to this page (nr. 6), distinti saluti and cordiali saluti are almost equivalent; more precisely here it is said that:

 in tutti i casi meno intimi, [sarebbe] meglio un cordiali saluti, non dimenticando che cordiale significa “che viene dal cuore” (latino cor, cordis). 
(when you're not intimate with the person you're writing to, cordiali saluti would be better (do not forget that cordiale means that comes from the heart (from the Latin noun cor, cordis))

and that:

quanto a distinti saluti, è la soluzione per tutte le situazioni formali in cui manca ogni familiarità.
(for what concerns distinti saluti, this latter is the solution for all those situations where there's absolutely no familiarity involved.)

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If you want something a bit more formal than "Cordiali Saluti", you could use "Distinti Saluti", which I think is more appropriate when writing to a public official.

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I would use «Cordiali saluti» in a letter where:

  • I invite people for a some "familiar" for example a wedding;
  • some commercial letter, in which I want to be "closer" to the customer, and the customer is a private;
  • If i am a doctor (or a lawyer or another professionist) and reply online to the question of an user.

I would prefer «Distinti saluti» if I am in a professional context, for example if I am replying to an application letter (expecially if the letter is negative!), or sending a letter to a customer, but I represent the firm and the customer is a firm.

BUT: remember that both are interchangeable, AND nowadays, the formal context is always less and less used: often people, also in a professional context including corporation, write mails informally (expecially after the very first contact), and this happens also in Italy.

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Let's consider "distinti saluti" more butler and servile language, therefore more suitable for a more formal message. As I tend to be "cordiale" I rather prefer the form: "cordiali saluti".

If you don't have strict requirement (lot of formality) both are correct, both are formals, and I wouldn't care too much: choose the one that fits your mood.

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