Wedding Invitations: Etiquette Q&A

Your wedding invitations can leave you bewildered, here's a wedding invitation etiquette guide to help you take control.

by The Knot

Wording, addressing, sending and replying to wedding invitations can be a tough and time consuming exercise, but eventually you’ll have to ignore the headache and confront these issues. The concerns and confusion may seem beyond escape, but we’ve got your back big time. Read these etiquette Q&As for solutions to your most pressing wedding invite related problems.

Just Beginning

Q. How far in advance should you send wedding invitations? What is the proper date to ask for the reply card?
A. Ideally, invitations should go out eight weeks before the wedding as that gives guests plenty of time to clear their schedules for the day and make travel arrangements if they live interstate. It also lets you make the RSVP date a little earlier such as three weeks before the wedding date so you can get a final head count and start making a seating chartbefore the final week before the wedding crunch begins. At the very latest, guests should receive wedding invitations six weeks in advance and you should get responses back two weeks before the big day.

Q. We’re in a tizzy over how many people to invite to the wedding as my fiance grew up in a very small country town in rural Australia and we’re afraid that feelings will be hurt if we don’t invite everyone from his hometown.  We want to keep the numbers down for financial reasons. Help!
A. It’s a nice gesture to invite guests your fiance feels are close to him and should attend from his hometown, but as it’s some distance away there will be some guests who aren’t able to, or can’t afford to, attend anyway. And if they cant attend, they’ll feel good knowing that they were invited.

Proper Wedding Invitation Wording

Q. We are paying for our own wedding and both of the families are giving us some money to help. We would like our invitation to include both sets of parents names, along with the bride and groom hosting the wedding. Is there a way to word this?
A. There’s a way to properly word anything.

Try this:
Tina Maria Smith
John Michael Douglass
together with their parents
Barbara and Robert Smith
Bob and Jane Douglass
request the honour of your presence

This wording suggests that you two are hosting in conjunction with your parents. Also, keep in mind that ‘hosting’ can have flexible meaning. Parents can be official hosts, as they planned the party, invited the guests and paid, or they can be honorary hosts.

Q. I am co-ordinating a friend’s wedding and have been asked to do the wording for the invitations. She and her fiance are paying for their own wedding but both want to honour their parents. The bride’s mother is deceased but she wants her mother’s name to appear on the invitation. What is the correct way to do this? Is it correct to mention a deceased parent in this way?
A. The invitation is issued by those who are hosting the wedding so someone who has passed away unfortunately can’t do so. Perhaps you can suggest that she include a tribute to her mother a different way, such as including her in the ceremony programme, or maybe a candle is lit for her with her favourite song played at the reception. The bride may even want to give a toast at the reception, during which she remembers her mother. Try to explain to her that including her mum’s name on the invite will seem awkward to guests, and it’s better to remember her mother on the occasion of the wedding, when the gesture will seem beautiful and moving, instead.

As for honoring parents on the invitation you might suggest this:

Jane Marie Darling
John Michael Rooney
together with their parents

This way, all the parents are honored (you could even argue that the spirit of mum is included in that simple sentence), but you don’t get into specifics.

Q. We’re having a Saturday afternoon reception that includes a cocktail hour and a full dinner. How do I let guests know that it’s not just an afternoon informal brunch? I would like it to be formal attire but not black tie.
A. One of the best ways to let guests in on the fact that the wedding is formal is with the invitations. Get ultra formal, traditional invitations on white, ivory or ecru paper, with the wording done in black script. alternatively, you can advise guests of wedding attire in the wording of the invitation so its clear. Give your guests the benefit of the doubt too, if they receive a formal invite from you and read where your wedding is being held, you can probably trust them to dress appropriately.

Q. We are getting married at a local hotel located on the beach. The ceremony will be held outside, with the reception following in a banquet room inside. It seems almost silly to have a separate reception card with the same location, but I have no idea how to put it all on the wedding invitation. Any ideas?
A. All you have to do is add a single line to the bottom of your wedding ceremony invitation such as ‘Reception to follow’. Just make sure your ushers know where to direct guests after the ceremony, so they’re all taking the most convenient walking route to the reception area.

Addressing the Invite

Q. Do couples who live together but aren’t married receive a single invitation or separate invitations?
A.Unmarried couples who live together receive a single invitation because they are a couple. Address it the same way you’d address the invitation of a married couple with different last names, alphabetically and on separate lines on the outer envelope:

Ms. Janine Myers
Mr. Richard Stevenson

The inner envelope would read:

Ms. Myers and Mr. Stevenson
Janine & Richard

Q. How should you address an invitation to a widow? What about a divorced woman who has retained her married name? And what about those who are bringing significant others who do not live with them? Can I send just one invitation or do I have to send one to each of them?
A. A widow is traditionally addressed as ‘Mrs. John Jones’, but if you feel the guest may not want to be addressed that way, it’s totally okay to ask her how she prefers to be addressed. A divorced woman who has kept her married name should be addressed as you suggested ‘Ms. Jane Johnson’. As far as a couple who does not live together, technically you should send each their own invitation but it’s fine to send the invite to one of them with both names listed alphabetically on the outer envelope, or listed as ‘Mr. Jack Jones & guest’.

Q. How do you address an invitation to a married couple, both of whom are doctors?
A. If a wife and husband are both doctors, the outer and inner envelopes should be addressed to ‘The Doctors Rosenthal’. It’s that simple! If they’re married, but have different last names, list both names in alphabetical order on separate lines as ‘Dr. Rosenthal’ and on the next line, ‘Dr. Schwartz’.

Q. What if the woman is a doctor and the man is not? Does the woman’s name come first because of her title?
A. Yes, the spouse with the professional title is listed first. Outer envelope: ‘Dr. Kate Randolph Mr. Brian Randolph’, or ‘Dr. Kate Randolph and Mr. Brian Randolph’. The inner envelope would read ‘Dr. Randolph and Mr. Randolph or Dr. and Mr. Randolph’.

Q. How do I address an invitation envelope to a lesbian couple? I want to invite my sister and her partner, who had an exchange of vows ceremony a few years ago, where my sister took her partner’s last name.
A. You have a couple of options, depending on how formally you want to address the envelopes. Because you won’t be saying ‘Mr. and Mrs’ for a formal invite you’ll probably want to address it this way: ‘Ms. Joan McDermott Ms. Theresa McDermott’. This way, you’re not saying “Ms. and Ms.”, which would sound awkward. Joan comes before Theresa alphabetically. Another option, if you don’t want to use titles or put the two on separate lines is ‘Joan and Theresa McDermott’. No matter which way you address the outer envelope, the inner envelope should read ‘The McDermotts’.

Q. We’re having a small wedding. Do we have to invite Mr. Smith ‘and Guest’? One friend told me that if a guest is not seriously dating someone, I can just address the invite to Mr. Smith and he’ll know he’s not supposed to invite someone. Is that true? What do I do if such guests reply for two anyway?
A. Most guests will understand that without ‘Guest’ or another name on the invitation, it’s meant for them alone. Especially if you are having a small wedding, you probably aren’t going to invite everyone to bring a partner, unless it’s a fiance or a serious significant other. Technically, you’re never supposed to write ‘and Guest, instead, you should find out the name of the significant other. What to do if some clueless souls reply for two? Call them up and explain that you’re having an intimate wedding and, unfortunately, you were not able to invite everyone with a guest. They should understand that.

Q. Is it improper to have the outside envelope addresses printed in a fancy font on the printer, or should they be handwritten?
A. Some will say a font that looks amazingly like cursive writing is acceptable, but we don’t necessarily agree. Etiquette does say that you should never print addresses with a computer, but always handwrite them. Remember, a wedding is an extremely intimate and personal event, and your invitations should reflect that. If it’s a matter of time or you’ve got 500 invitations to address, enlist the help of your mum, your sisters, your bridesmaids and anyone else who’s got nice handwriting to plow through them. It’s just one of those polite, personal  touches that isn’t totally obvious, unless such touches are absent, in which case they’re glaringly obvious.

Q. Do you put a return address on the wedding invitations?
A. You don’t necessarily have to have one printed on your outer envelopes, as that would probably increase your invitation costs, but it’s a good idea to handwrite a return address on the back flap. Just in case you get a guest’s address wrong, the post office will know where to return the invitation. The return address should be that of the person whom you’ve designated to receive rsvp’s such as the bride’s mother, the groom’s mother or the couple themselves. The rsvp envelope or postcard should be printed with this address.

Responding To an Invite

Q. What do RSVP and “Regrets Only” mean? Also, do you have to respond if not attending?
A. RSVP is short for the French phrase ‘Repondez, s’il vous plait’ which simply means ‘Please respond’. That means you should respond either way, whether you’re able to make it or not. If the couple has included a response card or postcard with the invitation, it’s easy, just send the card back saying you will or will not attend. If there’s no response card included, you should send a note letting the couple know whether you’ll be there. If you don’t respond, the couple will be forced to call you to verify your attendance. Don’t give them more to do, just rsvp within the given timeframe.’Regrets’ or ‘Regrets Only’ means that only guests who can’t make it need to respond. This way, the couple assumes that if you don’t respond, you are coming.

Q. What are the etiquette rules on rsvp cards?
A. The first thing you should do after receiving a wedding invitation is respond promptly as everything from seating arrangements to placing the alcohol order is riding on your response. If an RSVP card is enclosed, feel free to add a more personal note of congratulations or explanation of regret. If a blank reply card is enclosed you must write a response on the card in language that mirrors that of the invitation. A response to a formal invitation may read:

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Block
accept with pleasure
the invitation of
Mr. and Mrs. Joel Smith
for Saturday, the second of June
at six o’clock

For an informal invitation, the response could read something like this:

Dear Anne,
Zack and I can’t wait until the big day!
We look forward to seeing you on June 2.

Sticky Situations

Q. My parents’ friend called to say that her daughters and their husbands have not received invitations to the wedding. They didn’t receive invitations because we didn’t invite them. Should we? We invited them both to the engagement party. Are we obligated to invite them to the wedding even if we aren’t close to either daughter?
A. If they were present at your engagement party you really should invite them. engagement party guests should always be only people you’re planning on inviting to the wedding, otherwise they may feel they are being used to obtain gifts. The engagement party is a gift giving party, so your close friend and family can help outfit you for your new home. These are your parents’ friends’ family, so these guests probably should have been on your parents’ section of the guest list. This decision is now up to you, if you don’t invite them you, or your parents, may face conflict with them.

Q. Although my brother is marrying out of my family’s faith, my parents and relatives have tried to be very supportive. My grandmother has just received the invitation and it says ‘Bride’s parents invite you to the wedding of bride and groom’ with no mention of my parents. My parents are very hurt. The only thing we can think of is that in the bride’s Christian faith it isn’t customary to list the groom’s parents’ names on the invitation. Thoughts?
A. A ‘traditional’ Christian wedding invitation does not include the groom’s parents’ names. This goes back to the concept of the bride’s parents ‘giving her away’. These days that’s no longer the case and many couples include all of their parents’ names on the invites, but it sounds like your brother’s fiance’s family went the traditional route and were not aware that it would offend your parents. Since not much can be done now, hopefully your parents will see that it was probably an oversight due to your families’ different backgrounds and not more than that. Encourage your brother and his fiance to make a special toast to honour your parents as well.


by The Knot


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. I cannot get over how antiquated some of the advice is on this website! Mrs John Jones?!?? What the??!! Calligraphers???!!! Putting the woman’s name second??!! Not having typed address labels? Seriously, it’s time to give some advice to us brides to be that is not straight from the 1950s. Ridiculous!

  2. Hi
    Just wondering what the go is when both sets of parents are divorced, but not all paying
    In the grooms case, neither have remarried so it seems easy enough to put both names even though its his Dad who is contributing
    In the case of hte bride, both parents have new long term partners. her dad has actually remarried and is contributing to the wedding, do we have to put his wife’s name on the invite?
    and with her Mum, she is contributing wine from her vineyard, should her partner be recognised on teh invite?

  3. Having been in the position of having two deceased parents, who we really wanted to acknowledge on the invite, we our invites as ‘You are invited to the wedding of [bride’s first name], daughter of [mother] and the late [father] surname to [groom’s name], son of [mother and the late [father] surname.
    This way it’s not written as if they’re hosting (I had to check that mum was ok with this given she was covering 50%), but they are still acknowledged and honoured. Of course the bride would want her mum mentioned on the invite, and if anyone finds that awkward they shouldn’t be invited!

  4. Who really cares who is listed where. I agree rumpolette! We’re trying to keep our wedding as simple as possible and this is the stuff that my Future-sister-in-law insists on for our invitations. I find it ridiculous. My friends and family would find it so false for me to write up an invitation in the ways listed above. I found this article of no use what-so-ever. How about some more practical advice Knot? I’m having a destination wedding. We are 6 months out, I am NOT leaving my invitations until 8 weeks before the wedding. No one will be there!! If someone invited me to a destination wedding with that little notice, I wouldn’t be able to make it. Not all of us have money shoved up our sleeves for last second air-fares/accommodation…and neither do my guests!

  5. My cousin’s wife will be my bridesmaids at the wedding. She received formal invitation earlier and accepted it. How do I address an invitation to my cousin who will be a guest. Do I still send an invitation to both their names as a couple? Also if the kids under 14 are also invited do we have to put their names on the invitation as well?

  6. Re the last question: a nice way to mention the groom’s parents is to say “Mr and Mrs parents of the bride request the honour of your presence at the wedding of their daughter, Eve to Adam, son of Mr and Mrs parents of the groom”

  7. what is the proper etiquette in regards to invitation wording when you know only the wife will be attending the wedding but you were originally asking both husband and wife and children? Do you still write all names on invite or just wife knowing she is only one attending?

  8. @rumpolette – where does it even say that females should be put second? The examples at the top all had females first.

  9. The correct form is the gentleman’s name is always first. That is the correct form, which is the answer to the question. However, if you just want to word it your way you certainly may but that won’t make it correct, just your own personal style. No one said you HAD to personally address envelopes or place the man’s name first.

  10. Wedding invitations are all printed up, but a husband of the invited guests has since died. Does a new invitation with only the wife’s name have to be prepared?

  11. To keep costs down, we are considering only inviting a select few people & friends to our wedding reception, but would like to invite quite a few more to our actual wedding ceremony. We are therefore considering sending out invitations just to the wedding ceremony itself, about two weeks before the actual ceremony – since we won’t require Rsvp’s for the ceremony itself, as there is no food catering involved there. Would this approach be socially acceptable (ie inviting people to the ceremony but not the reception), & if so, would two weeks notice be sufficient for the ceremony invitations? Your advice is appreciated.

  12. Thanks, it’s nice to know the traditional etiquette. You don’t have to follow it if you don’t want to, but there wouldn’t be much point writing an article that says do whatever you want!

Keep reading…

Browse Local Suppliers