The difference between Mrs. and Miss or Ms. might seem obvious, but there’s a lot you can discover about all three feminine titles. Learning how and when to use the titles “Miss,” “Ms.” and “Mrs.” properly can ensure you show respect to the female recipient of a comment, question, or written correspondence.
There are a few basic etiquette rules that make it easy to remember whether to use "Miss," "Ms." or Mrs. These are the main uses of the titles for addressing letters, invitations, emails, cards, and people in conversations, but there are always exceptions.
- “Miss” is used for unmarried women under age 18.
- “Ms.” is used for unmarried women or women with an unknown marital status.
- “Mrs.” is used for married or widowed women.
Traditionally, “Miss” is used to address an unmarried woman. The term came about in the late 1700s as a way to refer to an unmarried woman with a high social status.
The title “Miss” is pronounced phonetically, or exactly how it looks. The word “Miss” rhymes with “hiss” or “this.”
“Miss” is used in several ways in the English language. Some uses are regional, like the use of “Miss” with any woman’s first name as a sign of respect in the American South or Canada.
- "Miss" as a professional title: Camille Schrier was crowned Miss America 2020.
- "Miss" as a formal title: I would like to take Miss Edwards out for dinner.
- "Miss" as a term of respect for any woman: Kids, say “thank you” to Miss Mary.
- "Miss" as a term of respect for a stranger: Pardon me, Miss. It seems you've dropped your scarf.
- "Miss" as an expression: Well, aren't you little Miss Perfect?
The title "Ms." was born out of the women's movement in the 1970s when women felt "Ms." was a fair equivalent to "Mr.," whether they were married or unmarried. Today, "Ms." is used as a title for women who prefer not to be labeled by their relationship status. It’s also used in cases where you don’t know the marital status of the person you are addressing.
The main pronunciation of "Ms." is “mizz” to help distinguish it from "Miss" or Mrs. However, in many regions, you’ll hear people pronounce it the same as "Miss".
"Ms." should always be used when addressing a woman whose marital status you don’t know. It is also the standard title for older unmarried women instead of "Miss". Some say you use "Ms." for unmarried women over age 18, while others say it’s for unmarried women over age 30.
- "Ms." as a professional or formal title: Dear Ms. Monroe
- "Ms." as a formal introduction: Please welcome Ms. Jennifer Oakes.
- "Ms." for married women who retain their maiden name: Mr. Smith and Ms. Jones
Interestingly, "Missus" is the informal version of "mistress." That’s why there’s an “r” in the abbreviation “Mrs.” In the mid-1700s, mistress was the female equivalent of master and an honorary term used to address a superior. When the term "Miss" came about in the late 1700s, the term “Mrs.” was used more for married women specifically.
In American English, you never see the full word "Missus" written out. On rare occasions, you might see it in British English. But, on both sides of the Atlantic, "Mrs." is used to address a married woman.
The title “Mrs.” can be pronounced in slightly different ways depending on where you are in the world. You may hear it pronounced “miss-iz,” “miz-iz” or “miss-iss.”
It's important to note a key difference between the American and British spellings of “Mrs.” In the United Kingdom, folks tend not to put a period after “Mrs.” When a woman marries, she traditionally takes her husband's last name. “Mrs.” is most often used in conjunction with this new last name.
- “Mrs.” as a formal title: Dear Mrs. Randall or Dear Mrs. Frank Randall
- “Mrs.” as a formal introduction: May I present Mrs. Elizabeth Swan.
- “Mrs.” as a replacement for “wife”: I’m having lunch with the Mrs. today.
If you're a fan of historical fiction, you might notice some of the married ladies from prior centuries referred to as "Mistress Fraser" or "Mistress McKenna." This is the correct period-specific way to address certain women.
In modern use, "mistress" has devolved to refer to a woman who is committing adultery with a married man.
While it's important to choose the appropriate title for the appropriate party, there are times when gender neutrality comes into play.
You use the title Doctor, or Dr., no matter the gender of the physician. So, you might have an appointment as a new patient with Dr. Shepherd or Dr. Randall with nothing to indicate their gender except your online research.
Another example of this is college professors. It's Professor Klaeger or Professor Luskay, no matter their gender.
The title “Mx” emerged in the late 1970s as a way to respect people who choose not to identify with one gender. Nonbinary individuals, as well as those who don't wish to be labeled by their gender, might use the title “Mx.” Because of its widely accepted use in the United Kingdom, it is not followed by a period. The title “Mx” is pronounced either “mix” or “mux.”
While these are the general rules of thumb for "Miss", "Ms.", and “Mrs.,” it's wise to do a little research before addressing a woman in any of these manners. You might offend a married woman by calling her "Miss" and vice versa. The best way to know which title to use is to ask the woman which she prefers. Continue learning how to use title abbreviations by exploring Messrs., Mmes., and Mses., the plural forms of Mr., Mrs., and Ms.