Ms. vs Mrs. vs Miss vs Mr.
A title is a word that comes before someone’s name (usually their last name) in order to indicate their gender, occupation, or marital status. Some common titles include “Dr.” (which stands for “Doctor”), “Prof.” (which stands for “Professor”), and “Mr.” (which stands for “Mister”).
The four titles we’re going to talk about are commonly used with adults, regardless of their profession, and can indicate both gender and marital status. These titles are:
- Mr. (short for “mister”)
- Mrs. (pronounced “missiz”; originally short for “mistress”)
- Ms. (pronounced “mizz”; originally a combination of “Mrs.” and “Miss”)
Notice that in American spelling, we use a period after abbreviated titles (not after Miss, which isn’t an abbreviation for anything). In British spelling, however, no periods are used. So in the U.S., you would write “Mr. Smith,” but in the UK, you would write “Mr Smith.” For this article, we’ll use the American spelling.
WHEN SHOULD I USE THESE TITLES?
These titles are usually used with people’s last names in order to be formal or polite. If you’re not quite on a first-name basis with someone, it’s probably best to use the “title + last name” formula. If you’re speaking to someone named John Doe, you can refer to him informally as “John,” or formally as “Mr. Doe.”
Sometimes, these titles can precede both a first and last name, though this is usually for very formal situations, like an address on an envelope or an official document.
Grade school teachers are often referred to by students using these titles. In college, it’s more common to use titles like “Prof.” or “Dr.”
The title “Mr.” is used before men’s last names, regardless of whether or not they are married. It stands for the word “mister,” but this word is rarely spelled out.
- Michael Harrison → Mr. Harrison
- Frank Parris → Mr. Parris
- Lucas Heinrichs → Mr. Heinrichs
- Maxwell Delaney → Mr. Delaney
- Aaron Cody → Mr. Cody
A: (On the phone) Hello, is this Anthony Hall?
B: Yes, this is he.
A: Hello, Mr. Hall. I’m calling to confirm an appointment you scheduled earlier…
(A and B are both middle school students)
A: Where’s Mr. Jackson?
B: I don’t think he’s here today. I heard we have a sub.*
A: Oh, nice. We better not have to do work today!
* “Sub” is short for “Substitute Teacher”
Often, you might hear the term “Mr. President,” a title used to address the president of the United States directly. You might find it odd to hear two titles in a row (typically, “Pres.” is itself a title used before presidents’ last names, e.g. Pres. Obama and Pres. Bush), but this is a special usage of “Mr.”
- The press would like to speak with you, Mr. President.
“Mr.” can also be used as a joke in combination with playful epithets, and you can actually be quite creative with this.
A: Can anyone actually name every single country in the world?
B: I can.
A: Okay, Mr. Know-it-all, someone besides you.
A: Where are we right now?
B: Right here.
A: Thanks, Mr. Obvious, how helpful of you.
Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why you had to hide away for so long. Where did we go wrong?
— “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra
MRS. & MISS
While Mr. is used for men, the title “Mrs.” is used for women. However, it’s only used for married women, which means you must know the person’s marital status in order to use it correctly.
- Leslie Rivers → Mrs. Rivers
- Jennifer McGowan → Mrs. McGowan
- Elizabeth Everhart → Mrs. Everhart
- Mary Wolf → Mrs. Wolf
- Carrie Sanders → Mrs. Sanders
On the other hand, if the woman is not married, use the title Miss. This is the only title out of the four that is not abbreviated and does not contain any punctuation.
- Yushan Huang → Miss Huang
- Amy Warner → Miss Warner
- Roxanne Cardoso → Miss Cardoso
- Amalia Melvin → Miss Melvin
- Brielle Waller → Miss Waller
Fun Fact: You might have heard the title “Miss” used with the winners of beauty pageants, like Miss America or Miss Universe.
- Did you find out who won Miss New York? My cousin was in the pageant but I didn’t watch it on TV.
You may be wondering, “What if I don’t know whether a woman is married or not? What title should I use?” In this case, the title “Ms.” can be used, which has developed as a sort of combination between “Mrs.” and “Miss.” Be careful with its pronunciation, however. While “Miss” is pronounced with a voiceless [s] sound, “Ms.” is pronounced with a voiced [z] sound.
- Lydia Hackett → Ms. Hackett
- Frida Reuter → Ms. Reuter
- Carla Vann → Ms. Vann
- Georgie Mendel → Ms. Mendel
- Haley Albertson → Ms. Albertson
Some people prefer to use “Ms.” instead of “Mrs.” and “Miss,” since there is no marriage-based equivalent for men. In this way, the title “Ms.” can be a somewhat modern and progressive alternative to the more traditional titles of “Mrs.” and “Miss.”
CAN THESE TITLES STAND BY THEMSELVES?
Is it possible to use a title by itself, without a first or last name next to it? The answer depends. The title “Mr.” can be spelled out as “mister” and used alone, but usually in an informal and sometimes offensive context. In general, though, using “mister” by itself is not very common.
- Get back here, mister!
- Hey, watch where you’re going, mister.
- So please excuse me, mister.
You’ve got things all wrong
You make it feel like a crime
So don’t confuse me, mister
I’ve known you too long
All I need is a little of your time
— “Excuse Me Mr.” by No Doubt
The title “Ms.” typically cannot be used alone. However, using “Miss” by itself can be a polite way to address a young woman.
- Excuse me, miss, could I ask you a quick question?
Meanwhile, the title “Mrs.” can be spelled out as “missus,” but this is an informal term used to refer to someone’s wife.
A: Hey, Bill, how’s it going lately?
B: Not bad, just spending time with the missus. (I.e. just spending time with my wife)
A: How has the missus been treating you? (I.e. How has your wife been treating you?)
If you want to address someone respectfully without using their name, you can use any of these terms of address:
- Sir (for men)
- Ma’am (for women; stands for Madam, which is less common)
- Hello, sir, how may I help you today?
- Do you need any assistance, ma’am?
- Excuse me, miss. I think you dropped this.
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