For instance, during a debate held on 27 July 1891 in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, one member, Mr Atkinson, said the following:

Mr. Speaker, Sir, may I very respectfully claim freedom of speech in order to call your attention to the Journals put before the House to-day, which contain a statement with reference to me which, if it were true, would make me ashamed of myself and my conduct as a Member of Parliament for the remainder of my days.

Another member, Mr Goschen, said:

I am only expressing the feelings which obtain universally in every part of the House when I say that you, Sir, have shown courtesy and impartiality to all sides of the House and to every Member of the House. You, Sir, have been obliged to appeal to the House against a Member of this House and you have said it is intolerable that during the whole of last week you have had to complain of the conduct of the hon. Member. I venture to think it will be the universal feeling of the House that the protection which you have asked at our hands must be accorded to you, Sir, unanimously. Without wishing to bear hardly on the hon. Member, without wishing in any way to show towards him any animosity, I still think the House will be of opinion that what you have said, Sir, must be marked, and must be marked in such a manner that it may be known that you have the support of the House.

What part of speech does, "Sir", the restated form of address, constitute and what is its purpose?

  • 1
    Is this English-specific? I can imagine it happening with "Monsieur" in French and similar words in German and Italian at least.
    – Andrew Leach
    May 13 at 12:05
  • @AndrewLeach, no, the question applies to other languages as well. May 13 at 12:10
  • 1
    It's to get and hold the attention of the addressee. If somebody speaking near you uses your name, you're more likely to pay attention. May 13 at 16:03
  • 1
    It's a politeness marker (although often used ironically/sarcastically), and often fulfils the additional pragmatic roles of refocusing on the person addressed in the screed, and compartmentalising the over-lengthy sentences politicians are fond of. I suppose that some would compare ' ... opinion that what you have said, Sir, must be marked ...' with the vocative in ' ... opinion that what you have said, Sid, must be marked ...' and class 'Sir' as a noun. May 13 at 16:39
  • 1
    Politeness has its own rules, especially in artificially archaic environments like Parliament. May 13 at 23:02

1 Answer 1


In English the word "you" may be either singular or plural. The form "you, sir" makes it clear that only a single (male) person is being addressed rather than several people.

The noun following "you" can refer to one person or to several people, for example "You, John, have won the door prize", or "You, 9B, have been making too much noise". In this last example "9B" would be a school class of 15-year-olds.

These days it would be more common to begin with the noun, as in "John, you have won the door prize".

As for the first example, Australian Members of Parliament would more commonly say something like "Mr Speaker, may I ...". I don't know whether this would be the case in the UK Parliament. Adding "sir" makes the speech more formal, and emphasises the respect that parliamentarians are required to show to the Speaker of the House.

  • Don't forget this was 1891, when modes of address were more formal! May 14 at 7:33
  • @KateBunting, indeed, and parliamentary speeches are even more formal than normal speech.
    – Peter
    May 14 at 8:05

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