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 MIS–iz) 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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