Forms of Address- Mrs, Miss or Ms?

This post was inspired by my Brazilian friend Javier. When he was taking an English language course, he asked me to explain the difference between Mr, Mrs and Miss.

The Marauder's Map of Messers Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. Photo credit comediva.com

The Marauder’s Map of Messers Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs. Photo credit comediva.com

Mr (often without punctuation in British English)
is the English honorific for men. Interestingly, in the UK, Republic of Ireland and South Africa, many surgeons use ‘Mr’ instead of ‘Dr’. This is because historically, a medical degree was not required to qualify as a surgeon. Mr is sometimes combined with certain title, for instance, Mr President or Mr Speaker, in these cases, the female equivalent is Madam. The plural form is Messrs, such as Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs of Harry Potter fame (see the photo above).

Master
is the honorific for boys under 18 years of age. I address all correspondence to my little nephew with Master C E Julian.

Master Jaden Smith starred in The Karate Kid. Photo credit theguardian.co.uk

Master Jaden Smith in The Karate Kid. Photo credit theguardian.co.uk

Mrs (often ‘Mrs.’ in the US and Canada)
is the title used by married women who otherwise do not use other titles (Dr, Professor, Lady, etc.). There are various plural forms: Mss and Mses, and the French Mmes can be used in conversation of correspondence, although rarely encountered.

Miss
is the honorific only for unmarried women who do not use a professional or noble title. It is a contraction for the archaic Mistress, which was once used for all women. A full stop (period) is never used to signify the contraction. The plural of Miss is Misses and can be used in conversation and correspondence.

Ms
is the intended default form of address for women regardless of their marital status, unless the individual makes another preference known. You can’t go wrong with Ms, whether the woman you are addressing is married or unmarried, has changed her name or not, ‘Ms’ is always correct. In the US, Ms is often used as a form of address for unmarried women over the age of 25.

I shall publish future posts on forms of address for royalty, the nobility and also professional titles. These present more variety than the English honorific for the masses.

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