“RSVP.” You’ve no doubt seen it on an invitation or two. Perhaps you’re planning on placing it at the bottom of your own wedding invites, or on a separate wedding RSVP card But what does RSVP stand for? If you receive one, what’s the best way to respond? And why does this article that’s meant to answer your questions start out with so many of its own?
The French Have A Word For Everything
Let’s start with the basics—and something the Google search that possibly sent you here already explained: RSVP is an abbreviated form of the French phrase, “Répondez, s’il vous plaît,” which means “respond please.”
By including it in the language of an invitation, the hosts are asking the guests to formally indicate whether or not they are planning on attending. It’s a fancy way of saying “I’m trying to get a headcount for this thing, so let me know if you’re coming or not.” Usually an RSVP features a respond by date, which is, once again, a fancy way of saying “Seriously, get back to me 2-4 weeks before the wedding, so I know how many orders of salmon to order from the caterer. I’m talking to you, Greg.”
The Origins of the Acronym
The Oxford English Dictionary references “RSVP” as early as the 1840s, so the expression and its intention has been around for more than a century and a half. As with pretty much anything that predates the Civil War, its meaning and utility has evolved, but that has more to do with an erosion of general etiquette than a shift in wedding traditions.
There was a time when adding RSVP to an invitation was actually considered rude. Replying to an invite was something any self-respecting individual would do as a matter of course, and a reminder implied that the invitee was either too vulgar to know this or too stupid to remember. But that’s no longer the case.
In this digital age, many of us have forgotten how to respond to an invitation. Facebook events let you reply “Yes” “No” and even “Maybe” (but don’t require it, so most of us don’t reply at all). Some people don’t even know how to write by hand anymore—especially not in cursive. As such, many guests who receive an RSVP—and even some of the hosts who send them—don’t know what they’re reading or how to properly frame their response. Thus, our simple guide to set you right, whether you’re sending an invite or receiving one.
For The Host
RSVP Card Wording
Before writing an RSVP on any invitation, you should know there are a few ways to style the acronym itself. The AP Stylebook suggests “RSVP” — all caps, no periods. Mother of modern etiquette Emily Post suggested punctuating each letter, either “R.S.V.P.” or the slightly more elegant “R.s.v.p.,” which she noted in her 1922 book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home is the preference of “fastidious people.” A final option would be “Rsvp,” the understated, no nonsense cousin of all other iterations. Whichever style you choose, avoid “Please RSVP,” which is the equivalent of writing the desperately thirsty “Please Respond, Please.” You may as well write “If you don’t RSVP, we’ll kill this dog.”
If you’re having trouble deciding which of these presentations is right for you, simply ask yourself “Who do I trust on matters of etiquette: the Associated Press or Emily Post?” If it’s the latter, decide whether or not you’re fastidious. Pro tip: If you have to look that word up, you are not.
RSVP Card Details
Next, because RSVP means “Respond, please,” it’s best to lay out the “how” and “by when” for your would-(or would not)-be guests. Despite the fact you said please, folks still don’t respond to stuff in a timely fashion, for reasons that remain mysterious (it’s because your friends and relatives are lazy.), It’s in your interest to make it as easy as possible for your guests to get you the information you need.
RSVP Card: Basic Info
For formal invitations it’s customary to include a response card, as well as a self-addressed and stamped envelope so they can send that card back to you. Emily Post has further advice in this regard, explaining that the response card should look like this:
The favor of your reply is requested by __insert date here__
Instead of accepts/regrets, you can opt for “will attend” and “will not attend”, and if “The favor of your reply is requested by” feels a little too over the top, you can go for a more laid back (but fancy enough) “Please respond by.”
The “M” followed by the blank is a space where the guest or guests should write their name(s) (or, in the case of your single friends, the name of their plus one, assuming they can get a date in time. )
RSVP Card: Meal Preference
Cards of this nature can also include lines for guests to indicate their food preference, if that information is of interest to you (if you’re offering a plated meal as opposed to a buffet at your reception, you’ll likely need to include food option specifics for your caterer). Options should be included below the line with the respond-by date, and usually follow the format below:
Grilled Meat Thing
Broiled Fish Thing
Vegetarian Steamed Thing
RSVP Card: Reply Date
The date by which you ask for a response is entirely up to you, but generally 30 days before your wedding is acceptable. The sooner you get a final headcount the sooner you can get a tally to your caterer (who will typically ask for one a week or two before the event) and the sooner you can begin the arduous task of laying out your seating chart.
RSVP Card: How To RSVP Digital
If you’re sending an invite for a less formal but still headcount-requiring event (a barbecue celebrating your engagement or even just a barbecue celebrating barbecue), you can send it via email or even via evite (which is honestly just a fancy email), or you can send the invitation by post and add an RSVP email or phone number for guests to use. If you add an email to the invitation, it’s assumed that’s an acceptable form of response for your guests. If you add a phone number it’s likewise assumed they can call you to let you know they’re coming.
For The Guests
Did you read all the above? Assuming the answer is yes, you now know that when your hosts send an RSVP, it’s because they actually need a reply.
What does that mean for you as a guest? It means you should reply. It’s that simple.
How you reply is only slightly more complicated, and depends on how you received the invite. It also depends a little on who you are, and who you’re bringing with you. For starters, an invitation will include the names of everyone who is invited to the wedding. If you’re a family of 5 but only 3 names are on the invite, that’s the host’s way of saying they hate two of your children. It’s bad form to ask if you can bring people who are not named on the invite, and even worse form to bring anyone who isn’t invited without asking. Do so at your own peril—which is to say, do so and expect to receive more than one dirty look from the mother of the bride.
If the RSVP in question was sent alongside a self-addressed envelope meant for the host, use it to send your reply card (which, if you received an envelope, was almost certainly included with the invitation). First, check the date for the event you’ve been invited to. If you’re able to attend, mark the box that says “accepts,” just like you do every time Facebook or Twitter updates their Terms and Conditions. If you can’t make it–and even if that fact fills you with joy– mark the box that says “regrets.”
As for the blank that starts with M, use it to execute a task you’ve been practicing since you were first able to hold a crayon: writing your own name (but don’t actually use a crayon: that will make you look like a psychopath.)
For guidance on how you should properly fill this space, look to the invitation itself. If your name is the only one on the invitation, that means you’ll be going solo. All you have to do is write your name, and hope your hosts are planning a meet-cute, and seating you at a table full of like-minded singles. Add your name to the blank as below:
M_r. Han Solo____
If the invitation is addressed to you and includes some variation of the phrase “and guest,” that means the host wants you to bring someone along, but is unsure of your relationship status and doesn’t want to bind you to a commitment you haven’t made yourself. If you know the name of your guest and they’re able to attend, respond on the card in the same fashion, with the name of the invitee first, followed by the name of the guest:
M_r. Han Solo & Mr. Chewbacca___
If you know you’re able to attend but are unsure of who your guest might be, it’s appropriate to send that information to the host with a handwritten note on the response card. Be sure to follow up with your host once your date’s name is confirmed. The initial note should be formal, but not impersonal:
M_r. Han Solo & Guest___
Dear Admiral Ackbar,
Thank you for the invitation to your forthcoming wedding. I graciously accept, and will share the identity of my guest as soon as I can convince someone to join me. (Chewy said he’d love to come but is concerned about finding a tuxedo in his size, and as such I may need to make other arrangements).
-Mr. Han Solo
If the envelope is addressed to you and a specific guest, but one who does not share your last name (say, a longterm live-in girlfriend or legal partner who didn’t take your name because her first name is Dixie and your last name is Normous), that means you’re both invited to the wedding. Respond on the line in the order in which the names appear on the invitation, using formal titles as appropriate (Dr.; Rev.; Rev. Dr.; etc):
M_r. Han Solo & General Leia Organa___
Finally, if the name included on your invitation is misspelled or otherwise erroneous, now is your chance to correct it. Simply write your preferred title on the response card and, if you’re truly concerned about the host missing your correction, add a small (but polite) note at its base to make sure the change doesn’t go unnoticed.
M_r. Kylo Ren___
Dear Admr. Hux,
Thank you for the invitation to your wedding. I am looking forward to attending. I do want to add that I no longer go by “Ben Solo.” Please make a note of it. Secondly, though I am technically a knight, Sir Kylo Ren still feels a bit too formal, so no need to go that route on the name placards.
—Mr. Kylo Ren
If your response card features a place to mark your food preferences, do so with your name so that your host can ensure your choice doesn’t get mixed up with your date’s. If there are any food allergies a host and caterer should be made aware of, write them clearly next to your selection.
M_r. and Mrs. Anakin Skywalker___
Anakin Bantha Steak
Klatooine Paddy Frogs
Padme Rootleaf Stew (V) —is pregnanT( ! ), nothing raw, please.
If the invitation you received didn’t come to you via the post, or if it came on a postcard with no formal card to fill out, follow whatever protocols are indicated on the invitation itself. If there’s an email address, respond via email. If there’s a phone number, give the host a call.