In semi/non-official correspondence, how a parent should address a teacher of their children?

Dear Miss Lastname,
Dear Ms Lastname,
Dear Firstname
or something else?

I know it's more about savoir-vivre than language...

  • 2
    When in doubt, the politest option can't hurt. – prosd Jul 17 '15 at 22:39

If I have no personal acquaintance with the teacher I would use Dear Miss/Mrs/Ms Lastname Of these I prefer the first two to the last, which has a feeling of political correctness about it that does not help person to person communication.

  • Unless you know that she elects to go by Ms. – Jim Jul 18 '15 at 0:25
  • The main reason I asked this question is that children address all female teachers by 'Miss Surname' and I was wondering if I should keep this form? – strah Jul 18 '15 at 19:41

Mrs. and Miss are chiefly used to refer to marital status. Miss may also refer to a female student, which is a bit beneath a teacher's rank in the educational system's hierarchy to say the least. The safest choice is Ms. when you are not sure, since it is a substitute for either. However all three are rather generic forms of address for somebody of a relatively esteemed position such as a teacher, so I would suggest a more specific form of address.

In this particular case I believe the most apt title is Mistress. You will probably have to spell it out in full, since the intended abbreviations for it are several of the ones misappropriated for marriage above. Mistress has a variety of meanings and it should be noted that unfortunately, the very worst has increasingly displaced the many more respectable senses of the word in everyday lexicon.

Nevertheless, the relevant meaning in this context and what should be the most likely to be understood by an educator is this one:

(mainly British) short for schoolmistress

Schoolmistress is just the longer form of title of a female teacher or head of a school, although it seems like a bit oddly verbose, so I would just stick with Mistress. It really makes the most sense in my opinion, to refer to a person by the best title they have legitimately earned in order to pay deference to their efforts. Despite being just as applicable, I might not use Master in kind, ironically because it does not have a descended abbreviation like the ones listed for Mistress, making it a less likely substitution.

As for the tangential given name/surname distinction, it is an old fashioned custom to never simply refer to somebody unfamiliar by their given name, which is a practice that still persists especially in salutations for formal letters. This question implies unfamiliarity, otherwise you might have inferred or have been directly told. I would suggest "Dear Mistress [Surname],". Unfortunately, I do not have a direct reference for this form of address, suggesting it is not frequently used but it is analogous to how one might open a letter to a college Professor with Dear Professor [Surname].

Regarding the validity of regional use, the British edition of Collin's Dictionary is quite qualified to note word definitions, since it is a London based company with a mailing address of 1 London Bridge Street.

Similar definitions to those linked above for Miss, Ms.., Mistress, Schoolmistress and Master can presently be found on The Free Dictionary by Farlex's website, where they are taken from Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged (1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.