How to write an invitation

How to write an invitation for weddings and other social occasionsConsidering the trouble and expense we go to when creating printed invitations for special occasions, it’s worth checking out just what you need to write on them so your guests know exactly what to expect. Here are some tips you may find helpful.

Whatever it’s for, get all the facts straight

You’d be surprised how many invitations to weddings, baptisms, bar mitzvahs etc. get mailed out with one or more pieces of crucial information missing. In our haste to get the thing ready for the printer – especially if we’re up to our ears in other preparations for the Big Day – it’s very easy to leave off a time, part of an address, etc. which can lead to all sorts of complications. Here are some ideas you can use; the tips are not necessarily in chronological order, though.

Who’s inviting

In most cases this is very straightforward – the name/names of the people or organisation hosting the event. Where you can get into a bit of hot water is with wedding invitations if you use the old-fashioned format where the hosts are the bride’s parents and they are divorced, widowed, remarried, etc. Here’s a quick look at how to handle that:

Parents together: Mr and Mrs John Smith” …. “at the marriage of their daughter”

Parents split up: “Mrs Angela Smith and Mr John Smith” …. “at the marriage of their daughter”

Mother remarried: “Mrs Angela Jones and Mr John Smith” …. “at the marriage of their daughter”

Mother and stepfather: Mr and Mrs Henry Jones” …. “at the marriage of her daughter”

Father and stepmother: Mr and Mrs John Smith” …. “at the marriage of his daughter”

Who’s being invited

It’s important to make this clear, especially if the invitation is to include anyone other than the main addressee. If you want single people to bring someone, write “Judith and Guest” or more formally “Ms Judith Grant and Guest.”  You can also use “partner” instead of “guest” which suggests you only want them to bring someone they’re close to rather than pull in someone off the street, but that doesn’t always work!

What they’re being invited to

How to write an invitation for weddings and other social occasionsThis may seem obvious, but there can be subtleties that escape your notice. For example with wedding invitations, the old-fashioned way of just inviting people to “the marriage of” followed by the ceremony “and afterwards at (address)” doesn’t tell people whether to expect a meal, dancing, snacks, tea, etc. so they won’t know whether to eat beforehand or not.

Also it’s quite important to explain the occasion so people know who is paying for it and who is the beneficiary! If you’ve just got engaged and your Dad is throwing a party for you, the invitation should say something like “Mr John Doe / John Doe invites (names) to celebrate his daughter Mary’s engagement to Bill Blogs.” Sad fact of life, but unless Mary and Bill are picking up the tab, it’s Daddy’s shout and he gets to headline the invite.

What time things happen

Although in theory all you have to do is give people a start time, it’s helpful to give them a finish time too – not just so they know when you want them to leave, but also so they can plan for babysitters, taxis, etc.

With lengthy events it’s a good idea to give the timings of each section, e.g. ceremony, reception, dinner, etc. and indicate if there is going to be a gap between one and the next to give people a chance to have a rest, change their clothes, etc.

Where it’s happening

On the invitation itself all you can hope to do is provide the full address and postcode of each venue involved in the event, but unless such places are easy to find you should enclose a separate sheet of paper with directions on it … for those of us who have misplaced our sat navs/GPS!

In the case of events where a ceremony takes place at venue #1 and the festivities continue at venue #2 elsewhere, don’t make the mistake of assuming everyone will follow a leader in their cars … many will get lost. Trust me. Ensure your directions include those on how to get from #1 to #2, and on how to get from the final venue back on to a main road. For tips on how to write good directions, see this article of mine.

What to wear

With some traditional events people most people know what to wear – e.g. cocktail party, drinks party, wedding, etc. – but often it’s useful to include the dress code so people won’t experience the horrible embarrassment of turning up in the wrong outfit (I’ve been there and remember how it feels.) Here are some of the more common UK dress code jargon terms you can use…

White Tie … the full works; tailcoat for men, long evening gown for women, all the bling you like including a tiara if you want.

Morning Dress … grey or black tailcoat and striped trousers/pants for men, elaborate dress or suit with hat and matching accessories for women

Black Tie … dinner jacket/tuxedo for men, long or very formal short dress for women, reasonable bling!

Lounge Suit … dark suit with plain shirt and tie for men, smart dress or suit for women

Smart Casual … (e.g.) collared shirt, plain trousers/pants and informal jacket for men, smart separates for women (no jeans unless very “designer!”)

Casual … pretty much anything goes

For more information, try or Google “dress code” for the relevant country.

What about email?

No matter how high-tech we’ve become many people revert to the traditional print format when it comes to social occasions (and even business events) – however if you want to be greener and save trees, there are several good sites that offer you the chance to send out eInvitations. Many provide templates of wording which you can either use straight off, or customize for your event. is one such site; otherwise Google “e invitations.”

Why invitations are often written in the 3rd person

Invitations in the past have nearly always been written that way and I know, it does sound pretty old-fashioned to write “John and Mary Doe cordially invite (name/names) to their housewarming party”…etc. However there is a distinct advantage with the 3rd person; it’s much easier to specify who is invited. The alternative in the 1st and 2nd persons would leave everyone wondering who was being talked about … “we invite you to our housewarming party” … !

Now, invite some better results from your  writing:

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand


photo credit: William Arthur Fine Stationery via photopin cc
photo credit: Peter Kaminski via photopin cc




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