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One way to address Bill Gates with respect would be to simply write Sir, but I don't want other readers to get confused about who I'm referring to. How do I refer to him with respect without creating any confusion? Another way I thought of is to just use "Mr. Gates", which is appropriate and it doesn't even create confusion. But what if I do really want to make use of "Sir" if I feel this conveys more respect? What would be correct, Sir Bill or Sir William?

Also, I want to know if my idea that "Sir" conveys more respect is really correct or if it is just my misconception and I'd sound like someone who doesn't know English well and doesn't know the proper usage of "Sir" ? Others on the blog are simply referring to and addressing him by writing Bill or Bill Gates but I don't want to copy others if they're not using proper etiquette.

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5 Answers 5

Using the form "Sir [insert name]" implies that the person has been Knighted (or, in some countries, possibly other positions, not sure). This applies even in the United States. Bill Gates has not been Knighted, so you should not use it in this form to address him. Doing so would be an interesting faux pas.

If you wish to formally address someone, you should use their appropriate title and name such as "Mr. [name]" or, if they have a doctorate, perhaps "Dr. [name]".

If you are adamant about using "sir", then it should be used in place of a name: "Sir, may I ask you a question." That said, if you want to clarify who you are talking to, and use "sir", you may also say: "Mr. Gates, sir, may I ask you a question?" This would clarify to whom you are speaking and uses the 'sir' honorific that you desire.

I suggest you take a read through the entry here about the use of "Sir". Importantly:

Sir is an honorific address used as a courtesy title to address a man without using his given name or family name in many English speaking cultures. It is often used in formal correspondence (Dear Sir, Right Reverend Sir).

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Woops. Apparently had a copy/paste failure? Thanks @Mari-LouA for fixing it for me! –  Doc Apr 18 at 20:16

Sir is used very rarely in the United States as a title. It usually implies that someone has been granted an honor in the British honors system (e.g. Sir Elton John or Sir Mick Jagger.)

If it is used, definitely capitalize "S" and the person's name.

You may address someone directly as "Sir" without using the name, as in "Hello, Sir, nice to meet you." This is a common usage.

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In countries where knighthoods are awarded, such as Britain and Australia the capitalization is significant.

Sir, with a capital S, is only used for someone who has been granted a knighthood. A good guide is here

The female equivalent being a Dame

For people without knighthoods, you would use sir with a lower case s as a form of respect. In this case the word is used on its own, not alongside the person's name.

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In Australia the only people who should be addressed as Sir or sir are people with knighthoods (now rare), police officers, and military officers. –  andy256 Apr 16 at 11:27
    
I was addressed as sir at the JFK airport. I take American English uses sir differently. –  kiamlaluno Apr 20 at 14:29

Just write "Mr Gates".

It's clear who you mean and conveys respect. Something like Bill could be seen as overly familiar.

It depends on what you want to achieve, but it also depends on the tenor of the rest of the blog. How are the other comments written?

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In speech, and you must call them 'Sir', call them 'Sir' only. But that would depend on the context, and I don't think you'd ever say 'Sir Bill' or 'Sir Gates'. And this only applies if it's actually part of their title, as opposed to a general show of deference.

  • "Hello, sir."
  • "Sir [Bill Gates], hello."

In writing, capitalise it wherever it is part of someone's prenominals, even if you don't use the rest of the name. This will be in most cases, except in quoted speech.

  • "I made sure that Sir was confortable."
  • "'Are you comfortable, sir?', I asked."
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