A security guard wishes to address multiple people respectfully at once. Does he say:

Sorry, sir, but this ID is invalid.


Sorry, sirs, but your IDs are invalid.

or something like

Sorry, gentlemen, but your IDs are invalid.

  • The question for me is why you would be using gender-specific language in what would appear to be a business context. Apr 5 '19 at 0:41

Sirs is the technically correct plural of "sir."

That said, it is rarely used today. Gentlemen is normally substituted.

Messrs. (pronounced MEZ-erz) is, curiously enough, the technically correct plural of "Mr." (pronounced MIST-er) and also hardly ever used, except in writing.


You don't need a plural so much as you need a vocative.
Sir is often used in the vocative, but not Sirs.
The correct vocative for more than one adult male (you can fudge on the "adult" part if you need to) is Gentlemen.

As in
Gentlemen, start your engines!
Sorry, gentlemen, your IDs are invalid.

  • How do you know that they're gentlemen?
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 1 '18 at 0:44
  • I vaguely remember a vocative case from high school Latin (Brute?), didn't know we had one in English. Anyway, what about "Dear Sirs", the common ordinary way of starting a business letter to a firm?
    – bof
    Oct 1 '18 at 5:05
  • 3
    @bof "Dear Sirs" is perfectly idiomatic in Britain, as a way of starting a business letter, to a company or business. Though nowadays it might be considered proper to say "Dear Sirs and Mesdames"... I wouldn't say "Sorry sirs, your ID's are invalid" I would prefer "Gentlemen". The only other instance of "Sirs" in the plural, that I can think of is where you are addressing or referring to two knights of the realm "The meeting was addressed by Sirs John Major and Nelson Mandela".
    – WS2
    Oct 1 '18 at 7:59
  • Vocative isn't a case in English; English nouns have no cases. But vocative refers to what you call your addressee; you is always vocative, for instance. And there are conventions and rules for direct address, as there are for any vocal interaction. In Latin the vocative was always the same as the nominative, except for 2nd-declension nouns, where it was -e, as in Domine, non sum dignus 'O Lord, I am not worthy'. Domine is usually translated "O Lord", but it's just the vocative case of dominus 'lord'. Oct 1 '18 at 14:50
  • 1
    @JohnLawler And Et tu Brute - "Even thou, oh Brutus"
    – WS2
    Oct 1 '18 at 16:24

The correct answer is:

Sorry, sirs, but your IDs are invalid.

Source: Definition from the Learner's Dictionary

sir /ˈsɚ/ noun

plural sirs

a — used without a name as a form of polite address to a man you do not know

  • 8
    No one would say that. They would say gentlemen here. Sirs in the plural is no longer used.
    – Lambie
    Sep 30 '18 at 14:25
  • 1
    While most likely true in the vernacular, the headline question asks for the plural of sir, and "gentlemen" is not it.
    – GlitchC
    Sep 30 '18 at 18:34
  • 5
    The question is not only in the title, otherwise why did you copy the OP's example in your answer. The question title is a summary, but the precise problem is in the body.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 1 '18 at 8:35

Sirs pace Lawler and Lambie is a time-honored way of addressing more than one sir, as per the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), definition 7b:

7b. In plural, used in addressing two or more persons.

And is still used today, as the following examples from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) show:

Hi, good afternoon, sirs. Thanks for taking my question. (NPR, 2010)

...and lurked into Atlanta to map Sherman's works. She is a paragon, sirs. We should all be so zealous. (Virginia Quarterly Review, 2007)

My students stood up. "Good morning, sirs." They sat down, folded their hands, and waited expectantly. (Impatient with Desire, 2010)

Royce had just dismounted when a boy ran up. "Take your horses, sirs? One night in a stable for just a silver each..." (Heir Novron, 2012)


  • 2
    Excluding the first example, the other quotes seem to be taken from historical/period novels. Would I be mistaken? The question is not only in the title, it is also in the main body. Would you write: Sorry, sirs, but your IDs are invalid or would you prefer using gentlemen in place of sirs?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 1 '18 at 7:21
  • npr.org/templates/story/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 1 '18 at 7:25
  • 5
    You answered a question, which is now closed, that you considered off-topic? Why is that?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 3 '18 at 6:30

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