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When to Use Ms., Mrs., and Miss to Address People

Titles are used as a sign of respect when speaking to strangers when we do not know their first name, as well as our elders and our superiors, for example, in a professional context.

Milena Lazova
Milena Lazova

Titles are used as a sign of respect when speaking to strangers when we do not know their first name, as well as our elders and our superiors, for example, in a professional context.

In days gone by, adult males were addressed as Mister, abbreviated to Mr., while young boys were referred to as Master. There used to be only one equivalent term for women, both married and unmarried, and that was “mistress.” This later developed and split into two distinctive titles: Mrs for married women and Miss for unmarried women and girls. Nowadays, terms such as Master and Mistress are considered outdated and are therefore scarcely used, yet Mr., Mrs., and Miss are still regularly used in everyday language.

Mrs. and Ms.

It is always appropriate to use “Mrs” when addressing married women. But how can we tell if a woman is married or not? You might use Mrs. if she signed off a letter or email because she introduced herself as Mrs, followed by her surname, or because the title is provided on other documentation such as forms of ID. You should only use Mrs when you are sure of a woman's marital status.

If you don’t know if a woman is married but she is too old to use “Miss,” you could opt for the neutral title “Ms.” This is far more polite than mistakenly using Miss or Mrs without knowing someone’s marital status. Some women also choose to go by “Ms” as they do not wish to highlight their relationship status.

Miss & Ms

Originally, “Miss” was used for unmarried women at a time when women married young. This means that the title “Miss” has only ever been used for girls and young adults. Using “Miss” to address somebody older than yourself would therefore be extremely odd, not to mention rather rude. If you’re unsure whether a woman is married or unmarried and don’t want to cause offense, you should avoid “Miss” altogether and instead opt for the neutral “Ms.”

Examples of Using Mrs., Ms, or Miss

Mrs. Smith has an appointment with Ms. Sharma at 10:30.
I’m looking for Miss Jane Johnson, does she live here?
When I get married, I’ll change my name from Miss. Amanda Heart to Mrs. Amanda Stein
Ms. Dobson, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

In British English, a surname follows the title without punctuation separating them. In American English, titles are always followed by a period. Titles have a hierarchy, for example, a person with a Ph.D. should be called Professor.

Suppose you’re ever in doubt about which title to use when addressing a woman. In that case, the safe bet is always “Ms.” This avoids making any assumptions about whether or not a person is married and avoids impolitely using a term that is not age-appropriate.

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Milena Lazova

I'm an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience in providing original content. I really like writing educational articles which may help others learn some aspects of English.


Milena Lazova

I'm an ESL teacher with over 7 years of experience in providing original content. I really like writing educational articles which may help others learn some aspects of English.

Valentina Dordevic

Hello! My name is Valentina. Book digesting is my specialty. I transform book ideas into easy-to-follow summaries, articles, study guides, reviews, essays, analyses, slides, or e-books.

Beth Taylor

Hello! My name is Beth. I'm from France. I'm a French and English native speaker and I really like writing.