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I was considering honorifics and I realized that sometimes we include and sometimes we omit a possessive in front of them.

I was wondering if there was a formal rule for such?

For example:

Your highness, the French delegation has arrived.

vs.

Highness, the French delegation has arrived.

Obviously, the your has been omitted here (or perhaps elided).

But, there are other honorifics where this is never done. For example: when addressing the mayor or a judge (in AmE), you might say "Your Honor", but you'd never say, "Honor". Rather, you'd say Mr. Mayor or Judge in those cases.

Is there a rule to this, or is merely that your has been elided in the above example, and it should have been written with an apostrophe:

'Highness, the French delegation has arrived.

Note: I'm deliberately ignoring the honorifics that never carry a possessive: Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.

  • 2
    Methinks messire carries its own possessive with it. – tchrist Mar 15 '14 at 15:34
  • 1
    @tchrist Methinks that is correct. But, I'm asking about the ones that carry an overt possessive. Messire would clearly be the counterpoint to sire. But, is this just another example of my point above? – David M Mar 15 '14 at 15:39
  • Am I the only one who has never heard them without the possessive? – Mitch Mar 15 '14 at 16:26
  • @Mitch It's definitely more common with the possessive. But, I've heard it without, as well. – David M Mar 15 '14 at 16:28
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This varies between countries in which such honorifics are used in a system of peerage.

In Britain you would always use Your Highness the first time you addressed someone, never Highness. Then if you addressed them again, you would use Sir or Ma'am.

In Europe the shortened form Highness is sometimes used. However, this is usually a translation of the form in the local language. If it not usual to use the possessive, then it gets omitted in the English representation.

For diplomatic or religious titles, Your Excellency or Your Eminence for example, the "Your" is also always used.

  • 1
    Thanks! Can you provide a source on the shortened form? It sounds believable enough that I've accepted. – David M Mar 15 '14 at 16:25
  • If you spoke with a cockney accent you might say 'Yer 'ighness', but never just 'ighness! – WS2 Mar 15 '14 at 21:52

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