How to Send Mail in the United States

Most countries have a postal service (a way to send mail). It’s a basic service, so you might think that it’s the same in every country. Have you noticed differences between the way we send mail in the United States and the way people send mail in your country? Today, we’re going to talk about how to send mail in the United States.

First, let’s talk about mailboxes.

There are a few different kinds of mailboxes. If you have a mailbox at your house, it might look like one of these:

Used with permission from

By ( [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons













If you live in an apartment or townhouse, you might have a group of mailboxes for your neighborhood or your building. Those look similar to these:

By Dmitry G (Own work) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dwight Burdette (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons









The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) also has mailboxes in public places all around the city. They are large, blue boxes like this one:

Coolcaesar at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

You can only RECEIVE mail in your home or apartment mailbox (not the blue Postal Service boxes). You can SEND mail from all of these mailboxes, but the way you do it is different for each one.

How to Send Mail

Here is how you send mail from each kind of mailbox:

  • Home Mailbox – To send mail from your home mailbox, put the mail inside the mailbox, and raise the red flag on the side. When the flag is up, the mail carrier will take out the mail that is inside.
  • Neighborhood Mailbox – Most neighborhood mailboxes have a special box that says “Outgoing Mail.” You can put mail into this box, and the mail carrier will take it.
  • Postal Service Mailbox – Just put mail into the box. There is a sign on the box that tells you what time the mail carrier will pick it up.

You can also take your mail to a post office. Near the entrance, there is an “outgoing mail” box. You can put your mail there if it is ready. In order to send mail in the United States, you must pay. We pay to send mail by buying stamps. You buy a stamp and put it on your mail. It is very important that you put a stamp on your mail. If you don’t use a stamp, the mail carrier will not deliver your mail. You can buy stamps at the post office. You may also be able to buy stamps at Wal-Mart, a gas station, a bank, a pharmacy, an office supply store, or a grocery store. You can buy stamps online at or Look for the word “forever” on the stamps. You can use those even if the price of stamps goes up in the future.

How to Address an Envelope

In different countries, people address envelopes differently. It’s important to do it correctly so that your mail goes to the right place. Here is an envelope that is ready to mail:

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

In the United States, we write the “to” address in the middle of the envelope. This letter is going to Bob Vance. Bob is the recipient of the letter (the person who will receive it). On the first line, we write the person’s name. On the second line, we write the number of the building (house/apartment/townhouse/office) and the name of the street. If we need to add an apartment number, we can put it in the same line or a different one. Below that, we write the city, state, and zip code. You can also write the zip code on a different line if the city and state are very long and you don’t have space.

In the top-left corner, we write the return address – the “from” address. This letter is from Phyllis Lapin. Phyllis wrote the letter. She is sending it to Bob. If there is a problem with the letter, the mail carrier can return it to Phyllis at this address. We write it the same as the “to” address:
Street Address (number of building + name of street)
City/State/Zip Code (*Notice that we put a comma between the city and the state.)

The stamp always goes in the top-right corner.

Your Turn

Find a partner in your class. Write your partner a letter and send it to him/her. When you receive a letter from your partner, bring it to class. Is the U.S. Postal Service fast or slow?

Discuss these questions with your classmates:

  1. Can you send letters from your home mailbox in your country?
  2. Can you receive mail at home in your country, or do you have to pick it up from another place?
  3. Is sending a letter in the United States cheap or expensive?
  4. Have you ever been to a U.S. post office? What was your opinion of it?
  5. Is the postal service in the U.S. the same as in your country or different? Explain your answer.
  6. In the United States, postal mail is sometimes called “snail mail.” What do you think that means? After you discuss it with your classmates, ask your teacher to explain.

Capitalization Rules

You might have noticed that in English, some words start with a capital letter, and others don’t. The rules for capitalization are not the same in every language, which can confuse students. Here are some rules to help you understand when you need to use a capital letter, and when you don’t.

1. Capitalize the first word of a sentence – even a quoted sentence.

When she arrives, offer her a cup of tea.
Treat her as you would your own daughter.
He said, “Treat her as you would your own daughter.”
Look out! You almost ran into my child!
“Look out!” she screamed. “You almost ran into my child.”

2. Capitalize a proper noun. Capitalize the abbreviation of a proper noun.

Golden Gate Bridge
George Wilbanks
G. Wilbanks
Lake Johnson
United States of America

3. Capitalize a person’s title when acts like part of the person’s name. Do not capitalize when the title is acting only as a description of the person.

Vice President Romanov
Mr. Romanov, the vice president of the company, will speak to us at noon.
The president will address Congress.
All senators are expected to attend.
The governors, lieutenant governors, and attorneys general called for a special task force.
Governor Purdue, Lieutenant Governor Harrelson, Attorney General Malek, and Senators Rumson and Flavin will attend.

4. Capitalize the person’s title when it follows the name on the address or signature line.

Ms. Callahan, Chairperson

5. Capitalize any title when used as a direct address.

Will you take my temperature, Doctor?
You won’t leave, will you, Father?

6. Capitalize points of the compass only when they refer to specific regions. Do not capitalize when they refer to directions

I have lived in the South for most of my life.
Go south three blocks and then turn left.
We live in the southeast section of town. (Southeast is just an adjective here describing section, so it should not be capitalized.)

7. Capitalize the first and last words of titles regardless of their parts of speech. Capitalize most other words within titles, including the short verb forms Is, Are, and Be.

Do not capitalize little words within titles such as articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (but, as, if, and, or, nor), or prepositions, regardless of their length.

“Come to the Water”
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Muppet Movie

8. Capitalize “federal” or “state” when used as part of an official agency name. If they are being used as general terms, do not capitalize.

That is a federal offense.
The State Board of Education has made a decision.
We visited four different states during our vacation.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation belongs to the US Department of Justice.
You must obey all county, state, and federal laws.

You may capitalize words such as “department,” “bureau,” and “office” if you have prepared your text in the following way:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (Bureau) has taken over the investigation. The Bureau is making progress in its investigation and plans to release a statement later today.

9. Do not capitalize names of seasons.

I love autumn colors and spring flowers.

10. Capitalize the first word of a letter’s greeting and the first word of its close.

Dear Ms. Klein,
My dear Mr. Peterson,
To whom it may concern:
Very truly yours,

11. Capitalize words that come from proper nouns, including proper adjectives.

I must take English and math.
Paco is Spanish, Olga is Russian, and Miriam is French.

12. Capitalize the names of specific course titles.

I must take history and Algebra 2. (We do not know which specific history course is required, but Algebra 2 is the name of a specific math course.)

13. Capitalize “I” when it is used as a personal pronoun.

Susan and I always enjoy watching movies.
When I was young, I loved jumping rope.

14. Capitalize days of the week and months of the year.

The semester will end on Thursday, March 27, 2014.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn to practice. Correct the capitalization in each sentence:

  1. on january 2, 1905, Japanese general nogi received from russian general stoessel a letter formally offering to surrender, ending the russo-japanese war.
  2. on january 5, 1914, henry ford, head of the ford motor company, introduced a minimum wage scale of $5 per day.
  3. on january 13, 1990, douglas wilder of virginia became the nation’s first elected black governor as he took the oath of office in richmond.
  4. on february 7, 1964, the beatles arrived in the united states for the first time.
  5. on april 2, 1917, president woodrow wilson asked congress to declare war against germany, saying, “the world must be made safe for democracy.”
  6. on april 14, 1865, president lincoln was shot and mortally wounded by john wilkes booth while attending the comedy “our american cousin” at ford’s theater in washington, d.c. he died the next day.
  7. on july 29, 1981, britain’s prince charles married lady diana spencer at st. paul’s cathedral in london.
  8. on september 1, 1939, world war ii began as nazi germany invaded poland.
  9. on november 8, 1960, massachusetts senator john f. kennedy defeated vice president richard m. nixon for the presidency.
  10. on december 22, 1864, during the civil war, union general william t. sherman sent a message to president lincoln from georgia, saying, “i beg to present you as a christmas gift the city of savannah.”

All of these history sentences came from The Learning Network (part of The New York Times). You can check your answers and read more about history here.