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Using Personal Titles: Using Personal Titles #4: Miss, Mrs., Ms., Ma'am

Dennis Oliver

Using Personal Titles #4:
Miss, Mrs., Ms., Ma'am


Four different titles are commonly used for women:
MissMrs.Ms., and ma'am. Using these titles
appropriately is sometimes challenging.


Titles for Women:
Miss Ms. ma'am


Use Miss with a complete name when you
address a card, letter, etc. to a young girl:

Miss Shannon Sperling

Miss Teresita DeLeón

Miss Tammy Kim


You can also use Miss with a complete name
when you address a card, letter, etc. to a young
unmarried woman:

Miss Nancy Krafcek

Miss Terry O'Sullivan

Miss Lana Silvestri


"Young unmarried woman" is, however,
difficult to define exactly--and this is a problem.

If a woman is young, but old enough to be
married, she might not want to call attention
to her unmarried status. This is even more true
if a woman isn't really young, but is not married.

In this situation, Miss isn't the best choice.


Some women say (and correctly) that if Mr.
can be used for both married and unmarried
men, there should be a similar title for women.

The title that can be used for both unmarried
and married women is Ms. Use Ms. ( [ m I z ])
when (a) marital status (single or married) isn't
important or (b) when marital status is unknown.


Miss is sometimes also used without a name
when speaking to female service workers
(servers in restaurants, clerks working at 
information desks, a salespeople in a store, etc.):

Excuse me, Miss.

Could you help me, Miss?

Thank you, Miss.

If the service worker is your age or younger
than you, Miss is probably acceptable. If the
worker is older than you, Miss is probably not 
acceptable: use ma'am ([ m ae m ]) instead.
Use it without a name:

I beg your pardon, ma'am.

Could you help me, ma'am?

I appreciate your help, ma'am.


You should also use ma'am when you are
speaking to a woman who is older than you
or to a woman who has a position of authority
and when you don't know the woman's
name or exactly what title to use with her name:

I'm very pleased to meet you, ma'am.

Thank you for agreeing to see me, ma'am.

I have an appointment for 3:00 PM, ma'am.

Yes, ma'am. I understand.

7. Notice that ma'am does not have a capital M,
but both Miss and Ms. do.



Titles for Women:
Mrs. and Ms.


In general, Mrs. is used for married women.

If a man introduces his wife to you, if the
woman is younger than you, and if the man
tells you his wife's name, only the name is
usually acceptable:



This is my wife, Lucy.

It's a pleasure to meet you, Lucy.


If a man introduces his wife to you and if the
woman is older than you, use Mrs. and the 
husband's surname (family name):

Mr. Kim:

This is my wife, Lucy.


It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Kim.


If you are speaking to or referring to
a woman and you know the woman's
surname, use Ms. and the surname if
(a) the woman has a position of authority,
(b) you don't know the woman's marital
status, or (c) the woman is your age or
older than you:

I have an appointment with Ms. Ikegami.

Ms. Jensen is the District Manager.

I appreciate your help, Ms. Chen.


If a woman is divorced, she might continue
to use her ex-husband's name or she might
use her unmarried name. If she continues
to use her ex-husband's name, Mrs. + that
name is possible, but Ms. + that name is
probably safer. If she uses her unmarried
name, use Ms. + that name:

Jill Burton married Phil Thomas. They got
a divorce. It's safest to refer to Jill now as
Ms. Thomas if she still uses her ex-husband's
name, and it's also good to use Ms. if she
decides to use the name Burton again.


If a woman uses her husband's name and
she's a widow (that is, her husband is dead),
thereare several possibilities:


Use Mrs. + the woman's given
name + the woman's married name:

Mrs. Mary Smith

Mrs. Anna Gräber

Mrs. Marguerite DeLorme


Use Mrs. + the woman's married
name only:

Mrs. Smith

Mrs. Gräber

Mrs. DeLorme


Use Mrs. + her husband's given
name + her husband's surname:

Mrs. John Smith

Mrs. Johann Gräber

Mrs. Jean-Luc DeLorme

(This is accepted in some dialects,
but not accepted in others.)


Use a combination of #1 and #3:

Mrs. Mary Smith (Mrs. John Smith)

Mrs. Anna Gräber (Mrs.
Johann Gräber)

Mrs. Marguerite DeLorme
(Mrs. Jean-Luc DeLorme)

5. If you aren't sure which form
a widow prefers, use #1 or #2.


Special Note:

If a woman has another title (for example, Dr.) use it.
Don't worry about Miss, Ms., and Mrs.

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