What Does RSVP Mean? (And Other Invitation Etiquette Questions)

updated Dec 8, 2022
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There are lots of rules around party etiquette: how to decide who to invite, whether it’s okay to bring a plus one, how to cancel plans, how to politely leave a party early and of course, all the rules surrounding RSVPs. Who knew four little letters could cause so much strife?

If you’re wondering about how to address an invitation, what to write in your RSVP response, or just want to know what those four letters even mean, we’ve got you covered. We tapped entertaining experts to answer some of the most common questions you might have about RSVPs and invitations. 

What does RSVP mean?

It’s an initialism used to abbreviate the French phrase “répondez s’il vous plaît,” which simply means “please respond.” 

But Heather Lee, editor in chief of content at Minted, insists there is a little more nuance to the term that’s left unsaid: “What [RSVP] really means is, ‘Please respond to the host either way, whether you can attend or not.’” 

Does RSVP need periods? Should RSVP be capitalized?

RSVP, R.S.V.P., r.s.v.p., and R.s.v.p. are all acceptable ways to write the abbreviation, according to etiquette experts at the Emily Post Institute. But both the Oxford English Dictionary and the AP Stylebook write the initialism without periods, as RSVP.

(Image credit: Lisa Diederich)

How do you use RSVP in a sentence?

Just something like, “RSVP by October 1.” Keep it simple and to the point—that’s what wedding expert Jennifer Spector, former director of brand at Zola, recommends. If you’re hosting a more formal event, Spector suggests more elegant wording like, “Kindly RSVP by the first of October.”

Do you say “Please RSVP” or just “RSVP”?

You do not need to add the word “please” before RSVP, since the term already translates to “please respond.” It’s like saying “ATM machine” or “PIN number.”

Two RSVP wording options from Zola. (Image credit: Zola)

What does the “M” stand for on an RSVP card?

The “M” is where you fill in your preferred prefix, followed by your name. So you complete the line with “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones.” 

But if you’re designing an invitation, Spector suggests that you might want to drop this tradition: “I am personally a fan of RSVP cards that don’t have an ‘M’ because not everybody has a title that starts with an ‘M,’ like my mother who is a ‘Dr.’” 

Wedding planning? Here’s a brilliant RSVP tip from Spector: “One trick is to write a small number on the back of every RSVP card you send out, and keep your own spreadsheet of who received which number,” she says. “I’ve heard many stories where people forgot to write their name on the RSVP card, and this way you’ll know exactly who the card came from. When I was planning my wedding, one of my friends sent me back an RSVP card without a name, and instead of checking ‘Attending’ or ‘Not attending,’ she wrote, ‘Maybe.’ That was a big faux pas, but at least I knew who to call because of those little numbers.”

How do you handle it if you’re worried your date or invite details may change? Lee suggests using your wedding website as the hub for wedding updates. If you’re still sending out paper invites, you can use them to also remind guests of that website’s URL. “If you’re only sending the wedding invitation and the reply card, go ahead and put the URL on the invitation itself, but if you’re including additional insert cards, it’s best to put it on the insert cards rather than the invite itself,” Lee says. 

Then, if something does change—say, your date gets pushed and you’re now collecting RSVPs online—Lee recommends updating the website first and potentially also emailing all guests (and calling your close family and wedding party, obvi).

What do you say when you RSVP?

You should reply in the same way you were invited, whether that’s a text, an online response, or a formal response card, unless the host specifies otherwise. As a guest, you just need to provide a few details: how many people will be attending, their names, and, in the case of some weddings or more formal events, your meal choice. 

Spector adds: “You should also never assume that you’ve been given a plus-one if your invitation does not clearly say, ‘and guest.’ Instead of RSVPing for two, reach out to the host if you are super unclear.” 

Spector also suggests that it’s fun to add a little flair to let the host know how excited you are to attend the event: “Even when I send in a wedding RSVP and there is only a space for my name and meal choice, I try to write a short note and doodle something,” she says. For a casual event or a party at home, Spector adds, “You might also want to offer to bring something or ask if there is anything you can do to help prepare, but beware that if you ask the host might really take you up on your offer.”

Do you RSVP if you’re not attending?

Yes, always. If the host requests a response, it’s because they need to know how many people are coming. Responding to say you can’t make it is more helpful than no response at all. As Spector says, “It’s worse to leave them wondering.” 

“This is a courtesy to your host,” says Lee, “so he or she can get an accurate headcount in order to know how many plates to set out, how much food to buy, rental items to order, and—in the case of a wedding or catered event—how many ‘heads’ they will be paying for.” 

What does “RSVP, regrets only” mean?

That you only need to reply if you cannot attend. If the host doesn’t hear back, they’ll assume you’ll be there. “I’ve only seen this for more casual events like happy hours and brunch mingles,” Spector says. 

What if you need to change your RSVP?

If you’re not sure if you can attend or not, Spector says it’s totally okay to wait to respond to an invitation, as long as you’re following the RSVP deadline and replying on time.

Regardless of circumstances, you should still try to give a yes or no answer by the RSVP deadline, but if you’re worried that won’t be feasible, Lee recommends reaching out to the couple and being as honest as possible. “Explaining your situation will really go a long way in helping a couple understand how much consideration you’re putting into this decision, that you’re not taking it lightly, and that you’re really wanting to be there but you’re simply not sure if it will be feasible,” Lee says.