There has been some disagreement in my other online searches, and in my own education.

Assuming that I do not know if the individual addressed is married, when should I use Miss Brown, and when should I use Ms. Brown?

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    Am I the only one that misses Mrs.?
    – OneProton
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 15:31
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    @Atømix - I guess not, but I sure dislike it. Note that to use it "properly", you have to follow "Mrs." with the Husband's name, not the woman's.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 18:43
  • @T.E.D.: How would that work when referring to someone who culturally does not use their husband's name? E.g. Belgian wives never assume their husband's name. My mother would never identify as "Mrs. [my father's last name]", so would you address her with "Mrs. [her last name]"?
    – Flater
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 11:38
  • It is now becoming vastly more complex where some people do not WANT to be put in a gender box...
    – mplungjan
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 13:39
  • When the woman in question is OK with it. Always err on the side of caution and use Ms by default.
    – moonstar
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 13:43

5 Answers 5


According to The American Heritage Book of English Usage,

Using Ms. obviates the need for the guesswork involved in figuring out whether to address someone as Mrs. or Miss: you can’t go wrong with Ms. Whether the woman you are addressing is married or unmarried, has changed her name or not, Ms. is always correct. And the beauty of Ms. is that this information becomes irrelevant, as it should be — and as it has always been for men.

  • 3
    But having this kind of pet peeve is itself a pet peeve of others, so react as you deem appropriate :)
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Sep 10, 2010 at 13:22
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    +1 for "... this information becomes irrelevant, as it should be — and as it has always been for men."
    – Tragicomic
    Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 16:08
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    "this information becomes irrelevant...it has always been for men." Another approach would be to not discard information, but rather increase it, by having a indicator as to whether or not a man was married or not. If marriage matters (and apparently to many still believe it does), this is a useful thing to know about persons. Especially if you are meeting them for the first time and are looking for a mate.
    – user597
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 at 14:42
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    I thought Master/Mister used to be the designators for unmarried and married men. That's why Alfred always called Batman "Master Bruce"
    – Kevin
    Commented Jan 4, 2012 at 15:07
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    Ah, but the catch to it lies in your closing phrase, "this information becomes irrelevant, AS IT SHOULD BE". That's a statement filled with implications about gender roles and how society is and ought to be. Many don't agree that that's how it ought to be. And so if you use the title "Ms" it carries the connotation that you are advocating a whole set of ideas. It's like calling someone "comrade". The dictionary may define it simply as "friend", but it implies that you think he's a communist, which may be positive or negative depending on your viewpoint.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 15:47

RegDwight has given a correct modern answer. The traditional approach would be different. Adopting this approach will sound like you're living in the 1950s or earlier, so you shouldn't actually do this, but I thought it would be useful to document what the modern system is reacting against.

  1. You should always know whether a woman is married or unmarried; a woman will sign a letter as either Rachel Jones [unmarried] or Rachel Smith (Mrs.) [married].
  2. Other than in correspondence, you would have been introduced, or there would be a calling card.
  3. If you write to a married or widowed women (divorced women are excluded from polite company) then you address her in writing as Mrs. Stephen Smith, using her husband's first name, not her own. For this reason you can write to "Mr. and Mrs. S. Smith".
  4. Mrs. and Miss are titles of respect; you only use them in relation to ladies; the lower classes are addressed by their first names, or by a bare surname.

This was the usual approach before 1960 or so (after the separation of Mrs. and Miss from the original Mistress in the seventeenth century). The use of Ms. (at all) was controversial from its proposal by Sheila Michaels in 1961 until some point in the 1980s - William Safire's use of it for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 is often seen as the pivotal moment for acceptance by its former opponents, in that someone as traditionalist as Safire realised that he couldn't use anything else.

I believe that the announcement of the engagement of "Prince Henry of Wales and Ms. Meghan Markle" on 27 November 2017 is the definitive proof that the title is appropriate in the highest of society.

If you're writing historical fiction, or you want a character to sound very old-fashioned, then using the traditional forms would be appropriate; even if not, it's useful to know what they were.

  • 3
    Umm, conservatives did not call Geraldine Ferraro "Ms" as a sign of acceptance of the title, but rather as a way of labelling her as a liberal. Somewhat like -- to take an admittedly more extreme example -- some liberals called President Bush "Fuhrer Bush", not as an indication that they were reconcilzed with Nazism, but as a sarcastic criticism.
    – Jay
    Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 15:51
  • 1
    @Jay Many conservatives, until 1984 had refused to use Ms. for anyone. Geraldine Ferraro made it impossible to avoid. Even using it to label liberals as such was controversial (like referring to trans* people as their current gender is controversial among conservatives today). But yes, "acceptance" is probably the wrong word. "Reluctant acquiescence" is probably closer. Commented Apr 26, 2012 at 16:11
  • The Mrs/Miss distinction in 'the traditional approach' does not strictly speaking reflect the marital status, but whether the surname that follows is the husband's surname. In the past that almost always amounted to the same thing as almost all married women always used their husbands' surnames as their own. Even in the first half of the twentieth century, however, some women (typically in the artistic and intellectual circles) continued to use their maiden names after marriage (at least in connection with their work), and they were addressed as Miss.
    – jsw29
    Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 16:08

(This question has been referenced from another marked as a duplicate, so I'm adding an answer here even though this question is old.)

The catch is that this is all politically/socially charged.

The title "Ms" was invented in the 70s (or at least that's when it became widely known) by feminists who objected to being "identified based purely on their relationship with men", to use a phrase that was commonly repeated at the time. Their intent was that Miss and Mrs should be abolished and replaced with this new "non-sexist" term. But because the term was advanced as part of a specific philosophy or social agenda, women who did not support that agenda objected to having the term applied to them. So what we really ended up with was that feminist women identified themselves as "Ms", unmarried non-feminist women identified themselves as "Miss", and married non-feminist women identified themselves as "Mrs".

What could under other circumstances have simplified titles, reducing 2 to 1, resulted instead in complicating them, increasing 2 to 3.

I don't think there's as much heat attached to it today as there was back then. But you can't just say, "Oh, it's easier to use Ms for all women because then I don't have to know whether or not they're married." Many non-feminist women don't like the title and object to having it applied to them, just as many feminist women object to the titles Miss and Mrs.

The only "easy answer" is to call a woman by the title she prefers. If she refers to herself as "Mrs Mary Smith", then that's what you should call her. If you don't have anything from her giving a title, ask her.

Well, I suppose if you want to make a social point, for or against feminism, you could use the title you prefer whether she likes it or not.

Personally, I just avoid using any title at all when I can. I just refer to her as "Mary Smith" without any Miss, Mrs, or Ms.

  • No title at all is fine with friends and colleagues but would you avoid saying "Mr" for an acquaintance in a very formal setting? Would you present someone as "John Smith has written bla, bla and has been invited to talk about bla, bla? Saying "Ms. Mary Smith" shows courtesy and implies a certain distance in your relationship, which "Mary Smith" lacks.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 6:31
  • Actually I rarely call anyone "Mr". I pretty much only use that when I don't know his first name. I've introduced people to speak at conferences and I never say "Mr Fred Smith", I always just say "Fred smith". But if I didn't know his first name, I'd say "Mr Smith" as opposed to just "Smith". More to the point, I've never heard a man object to being called "Mr". While using no title at all for a woman might seem disrespectful, using a title she objects to would, I think, be more disrespectful still. Bringing me back to, you have to listen to what she calls herself, or ask her.
    – Jay
    Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 13:25
  • Just like Ms failed to simplify things (by reducing 2 options to 1), but instead complicated them (by increasing the number of options from 2 to 3), so does using no title fail to improve things, but instead ends up complicating them further by increasing the number of options to 4. Some people may perceive being addressed with no title as more disrespectful than being addressed with a wrong title (they may think of the former as improper familiarity, while being willing to excuse the latter as an understandable mistake).
    – jsw29
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 22:01
  • Asking people what title they prefer is also not a perfect solution, as some people may be annoyed by the question: they may perceive the question as making too much fuss about the matter. Asking the question would be particularly out of place if one needed to address the person only once.
    – jsw29
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 22:02
  • @jsw29 "3 options to 4" Fair enough. Leaving us with, There is no easy solution. If I was going to introduce someone at a formal event, if she's going to give a speech at a conference or some such, I think it would be appropriate to ask how she would like to be introduced. And in general, I think to ask someone, "What would you like me to call you? Miss Smith? Ms Smith? Mary? Or what?" would rarely be seen as inappropriate.
    – Jay
    Commented Feb 21, 2021 at 23:57

A rather strange point was raised in the accepted answer to this question. Personally, I wish this information were relevant for both men and women, but the fact is, it is a feature of our language that men are always styled 'Mr' unless they have some other title or style, and women have the privilege of being styled 'Miss' or 'Mrs'. Some women will be seriously offended if you don't address them by their preferred title. In business correspondence, 'Ms' is almost always appropriate, but in social correspondence, one would do well to try to find out what the lady in question prefers.

  • 1
    Note that, unlike "Miss" and "Ms.", the proper way to use the "Mrs." title is with the husband's name. I haven't personally met a woman who claimed to prefer this method of address, but I suppose they could exist.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 18:49
  • @T.E.D. You are correct, and you make an important point. Think of it like bidding in a bridge game. When one wants to indicate having been married, but that one's husband is deceased, it is distinctly different: Mrs. woman's-first-name husband's-last-name. I agree that to be Mrs. husband's first name husband's last name does rather diminish one's sense of personal identity ;o) but that is the proper way to use the Mrs. title with a living spouse. Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 18:01
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    I'm not sure what you mean by "the proper way". We've had discussions here before about what most people actually say in practice versus rules somebody wrote in a book 100 years ago. In the US, anyway, most married women refer to themselves as "Mrs. Mary Smith". "Mrs. Fred Smith" is not unheard of but very, very rare. A couple together may be referred to as "Mr. & Mrs. Fred Smith", I don't think that's too uncommon, especially on invitations to a formal event.
    – Jay
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 16:26
  • In multiple posts on the use of honorifics, @T.E.D. has repeatedly claimed that using "Mrs" with a woman's given name is "wrong". This misogynistic nonsense is utterly out of step with not just contemporary usage in the 21st century, but with the preferences of every woman I've known, including some born in the late 19th century. No man has any right to make such an assertion on behalf of womenhood. Commented Feb 6, 2023 at 4:03

Assuming that I do not know if the individual addressed is married, when should I use Miss Brown, and when should I use Ms. Brown?

You might use "Miss" to address a female child under the age of thirteen. Otherwise, if you don't know if they are married, then Ms. is a convenient get-out.

  • 1
    Any self-respecting child, particularly a tween girl, would chafe at being given an "immature" title instead of the general-purpose title. Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 16:01
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    I think the only appropriate situation to address children with formal titles (Miss/Master) is probably on wedding invitations or the like. In nearly all other contexts you should address them by their first name, their first and last name, or “young man/lady”. At least, this is the case in American social conventions.
    – nohat
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 17:00
  • 1
    I actually hear both "Mr." and "Miss" used when scolding younger children sometimes. They're used interchangeably with "young man/ lady" in that context. I only point it out because I'm an American. :)
    – kitukwfyer
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 18:43
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    In England, well, once upon a time at least, 'master' was the term used for a young boy.
    – gbjbaanb
    Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 21:55
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    In America too if you go far enough back (several members of my Grandparents generation used to use it). Commented Jan 2, 2011 at 1:11

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