In movies, mostly around military personnel, female officers are sometimes addressed as "Sir" (Sometimes also followed by a "Um, ma'am, sorry..."). What would be the correct usage here if not using military rank? Are both" sir" and "ma'am/madam" correct?

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    It is never correct to address a woman as "Sir". – user24964 Feb 19 '14 at 13:55
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    Please use a minimum of effort to find the answer yourself. It is easily resolved in both google and here - please do NOT ignore suggestions by the interface when asking at SE sites – mplungjan Feb 19 '14 at 14:15
  • Not unless she grows a beard n moustache. – user70822 Feb 19 '14 at 14:46

Sir, although originally signifying knighthood, has evolved into a modern honorific which is simply used to address a man in a polite/respectful way.

Madam is the female equivalent, which is the full form of the contraction ma'am. It originated from the French term madame, which means "my lady".

Both are used to address someone formally.


Addressing a woman as sir is not really ever appropriate, because a knighted woman would have dame as her title and would be addressed as "Lady".


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  • This is an excellent explanation of the usage of both. But, the OP asks if you can use them interchangeably for a woman? Can you revise/source to answer this? – David M Feb 19 '14 at 14:02

In the military it is question of regulation and the regulation is driven by tradition. For example, in the Hungarian army we use a very strange mix which contains both gender. Outside the military I would use "ma'am/madam".

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  • This is fascinating, of course, but this is the English Language and Usage Stack Exchange. What you would say in Hungarian is very interesting to many of us, but unfortunately off-topic! – David M Feb 19 '14 at 14:35
  • I agree, this site is about English language. However, if you read again what I wrote you may note I claimed that using of this form of addressing is driven by tradition and I showed an example to support what I claimed. On the other hand, language is part of the culture and both languages belong to western culture. To know how other cultures use their languages may result a higher understanding. In my opinion, it was not off-topic. – SayusiAndo Feb 20 '14 at 6:07

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