We use titles like “Miss,” “Mrs.,” “Ms.,” and “Mr.” when using someone’s first name could sound too familiar. For instance, when addressing someone you don’t know well, you might say “Dear Ms. Turner” rather than “Dear Sophie.” But there are rules about how to use these titles in your writing.
In this post, then, we’ll look at:
Common female honorifics, including “Miss,” “Mrs.,” and “Ms.”
The male honorifics “Mr.” and “Master.”
Gender-neutral titles and when you might want to use them.
How American and British English differ in punctuating honorifics.
Read on below to find out everything you need to know.
Female Honorifics: Miss, Mrs. and Ms.
Traditionally, female honorifics are based on a woman’s marital status:
“Miss” refers to an unmarried woman.
“Mrs.” refers to a married woman.
These are still common today. However, we don’t always know the marital status of the person we’re addressing. And some women prefer not to be defined by whether they’re married. This led to the introduction of “Ms.”:
We have contacted Ms. Harris about her refund.
So, how do you know which term to use? We suggest:
Using “Miss” or “Mrs.” only when you know the person’s marital status and you know they don’t mind using these traditional titles.
Using “Ms.” as a default when you don’t know the information above.
You might also hear the word “mistress,” which used to be the full version of “Mrs.” However, it now usually refers to a woman who is taking part in an adulterous relationship, so it’s best not to use this term as a formal title!
Male Honorifics: Mr and Master
The only common male honorific is “Mr.,” which is short for “Mister.” As such, you should use this title when addressing any male in formal writing:
I spoke to Mr. Thompson yesterday.
You may also come across “Master,” which is a title for boy too young to be called “Mr.” This is quite old-fashioned, though, so it is rare outside of very formal writing, and you’re usually better off sticking with “Mr.” for simplicity.
The titles we’ve discussed so far are all gender specific. However, many now prefer gender-neutral titles. Probably the most common of these is “Mx.” Pronounced “mix” or “mux,” this title is popular with non-binary people and those who prefer not to be identified by their gender:
Mx. Sampson will be speaking at the event on Tuesday.
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The key is to use the person’s favoured term if you know it. So, if someone prefers to use a gender-neutral title, you should respect their choice.
American vs. British English: Punctuating Titles
In American English, we typically add a period at the end of abbreviations. And this includes titles like “Mr.” and “Mrs.” In British English, though, these titles are written without the period at the end:
US English:Mr. Selby and Mrs. Lyle are waiting outside.
UK English:Mr Selby and Mrs Lyle are waiting outside.
The same applies to dialects based on UK English, such as Australian English.
“Ms.” and “Mx.,” meanwhile, aren’t abbreviations, but we punctuate them as if they were in American English for consistency with similar titles:
Are Ms. Booth and Mx. Tate here yet?
“Miss,” however, is a full word, so it doesn’t need a period in either dialect:
US English:Miss Joyce will see you now.
UK English:Miss Joyce will see you now.
You should now be able to use these titles correctly in your writing. But if you’d like any help using these terms, or with any other aspect of your writing, why not submit a free sample document for proofreading?