Grammar Ms., Mrs., or Miss: Which One Should You Use? |
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Ms., Mrs., or Miss: Which One Should You Use?

Some speakers of American English think Ms., Mrs., and Miss all mean the same thing. They don’t, and learning their differences can enhance your grammar while ensuring you communicate politely.

Before we dive into details, we’ll start by saying that each form of address is intended as a respectful title. To be well-mannered, you would write or say any of these before a person’s last name.

Now let’s look at their differences and correct usage.

The Meaning of Miss

Miss is traditionally used as a polite way of addressing or referring to a young, unmarried woman. It would normally be followed by a last name, although in certain parts of the American South it could be considered good form to use Miss with a first name. Miss can also be used alone when speaking directly to someone you don’t know in a respectful way.

I would like to introduce you to Miss Andrea Jones, our director of human resources.

You do look lovely today, Miss Felicia.

Excuse me, miss, but I think you dropped something.

The Meaning of Mrs.

Mrs. (pronounced MISiz) is similar to Miss, except that it refers to a married woman. The other difference is that Mrs. is not used as a stand-alone title; to be polite in addressing a married woman without including her last name, speakers of American English would often refer to her as ma’am.

I’m planning on having lunch with Mrs. Stevens on Wednesday.

You can address the letter to Mrs. Josephine Wood.

Will you be joining us at the library this evening, Mrs. Baker?

The Meaning of Ms.

Pronounced miz, Ms. came into favor in the 1950s as a courteous title in addressing single women or women whose marital status was unknown. It has become more popular recently for couple of reasons. The first is that it allows for a term of respect to be used independently of a woman’s relationship to (or apart from) a spouse. Secondly, Ms. translates more directly to the male form of address, Mr., which is not determined by a relationship.

Ms. can be used just like Mrs.

Ms. Strickland gave a strong case for her initiative during the board meeting.

I’ve always thought that Ms. Janowski would make a good choice for head of the union.

When to Use Ms., Mrs., and Miss

Although traditional rules for Miss and Mrs. have often focused on age and marital status, the best approach to using these titles is to pay attention to the way a woman refers to herself or how others refer to her. Given that each of these terms intends to convey respect, going with an individual’s revealed preference is always the best usage.


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5 responses to “Ms., Mrs., or Miss: Which One Should You Use?”

  1. Ann McReynolds says:

    For the past forty years, I have used my maiden name almost exclusively. It started when I began working at my father’s business, since it provided an instant link with the name of the firm. Equally important, I have lived my entire life in the same community, where I routinely see or interact with people who have known me and my family for decades, so there is no confusion about who I am. After being divorced for thirteen years, I remarried thirty years ago, and my husband agreed that it was silly for me to go by his name, considering I was well-entrenched in business and our community by my maiden name. That does NOT mean I am averse to being “Mrs. _____ ” in a social setting WITH my husband; however, I never use his surname with mine. Yes, I guess that is confusing to some people…and annoying, for some strange reason. (I used to say, if it’s good enough for Elizabeth Taylor to use her “maiden name” after six husbands, it’s good enough for me!) I also know it annoys some of people in genealogical circles that I refuse to respond use my husband’s surname, and they REALLY get flummoxed when they see my name hyphenated, which I do with various hereditary societies.

    That’s a LONG explanation to introduce my comment re: Miss, Mrs., and Ms. I am often referred to as “Mrs. McReynolds” in a social setting, even by people who know me! Depending on the circumstances, I gently mention that I am not Mrs. McReynolds, since McReynolds is my maiden name. Sigh. Surely, I am not the only woman in this country who has had the same experience. It really is so funny to me. I guess some people still feel that “Mrs.” is polite, while “Ms.” borders on being rude. Others, I’m sure, are utterly clueless about all language and grammar details. I really can’t figure it out.

    Thank you for your wonderful emails. I have loved them for years.

  2. Susan W, Hannaford says:

    Is “Mrs.” okay for divorced women? Is it a choice?

    • says:

      It is acceptable for both married and divorced women to use the title Mrs. The difference is that a divorced woman would no longer go by her husband’s name in address, if she ever had (e.g., Mrs. Susan Reynolds vs. Mrs. Stan Reynolds). She can also of course be addressed as “Ms.”

      Today it is acceptable for both married and divorced women to be referred to by their first names after the title Mrs., as in “Mrs. Susan Reynolds.” A married woman can choose to be addressed as either “Mrs. Susan Reynolds” or “Mrs. Arthur Reynolds.” In the case of a divorced woman, “Mrs. Arthur Reynolds” is no longer an option.

  3. Francois Carstens says:

    Could you perhaps assist with the following.
    Is it correct to capitalise someone’s title (ie mr.) mid sentence followed by the initials and surname?

    Thank you

    • says:

      Yes, you would be correct to capitalize a person’s professional title or form of address within a sentence (e.g., Mr., Mrs., Dr., Prof.). In the case of “Mr.,” you would follow the courtesy title with the initial or the full first name and the surname (e.g., Mr. J. Smith, Mr. John Smith) or the abbreviated title and the surname alone (Mr. Smith).

      With a professional title, you would spell out the title if it appears with the last name alone (e.g., Prof. John Smith but Professor Smith). You might find our post Abbreviating Professional Titles and Academic Degrees of interest.

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