Grammar 13 min read

Mrs., Ms., or Miss? Address Women With Respect

Main Mrs. or Ms. or Miss Takeaways:

  • Ms., Mrs., and Miss are all titles or honorifics used to address women.
  • PRO Tip: When in doubt, use Ms. Regardless of marital status, it’s the accepted modern title of honor for any adult woman.
  • Ms. may refer to a married or unmarried woman.
  • It first appeared in the 1950s as a more appropriate counterpart to the title Mr., which does not indicate marital status.
  • Miss is usually used for young ladies who have never been married.
  • Mrs. is reserved for women who are married. It also applies to women that have been married.
  • A divorced woman may choose to keep using Mrs. or Ms., but rarely ever Miss.
  • If you’re a woman, the choice of which title to use is up to you.

Our prim-and-proper teacher called all his students Miss or Mister.

For years I’ve been Ms. Cadena, but after my wedding on Sunday I’ll forever be Mrs. Guitierrez.

I don’t care what traditionalists say — I’m keeping my maiden name and going by Ms. even after I get married.

Mrs. Tally lost her husband more than a decade ago, but she still goes by her married name and title.

We address all our new female clients as Ms. until they request otherwise.

Accidentally using the wrong title might offend some, so knowing which to use when is key to making a great impression. Avoid any missteps and know once and for all when to use Mrs. or Ms. or Miss.

Three women. One labeled Ms., one labeled Mrs., and one labeled Miss. Woman in the middle is showing her wedding ring to her friends.
Ms., Mrs., and Miss are all titles or honorifics used to address women.

What Is the Difference Between Ms., Mrs., And Miss?

The difference between Ms., Mrs., and Miss has to do with a female person’s marital status and age. For example, use miss to address young girls who have never been married. Conversely, use Mrs. to address a woman that is currently or has been married in the past. If you aren’t sure, err on the side of caution and use the more neutral Ms. for any adult woman. All three honorifics are grammatically correct, but using the wrong one may be offensive.

The three terms Miss, Mrs., and Ms. are also called honorifics. We use these to address individuals formally and with respect.

Which to use when depends on the individual, their age, marital status and personal preferences.

1. Ms.: How To Use It With Charm

Ms. gained popularity in the mid-20th century. Its usage picked up steam in the 1970s and 80s, partially due to the push for expanded women’s rights during this era. It’s used for both married and unmarried women.

  • Many people use Ms. as a sort of default if they’re unsure whether the woman in question is married or not.
  • It’s also polite if you’re unsure which title someone favors.
  • There are some married women who would rather use Ms. than Mrs. as a matter of personal preference.
  • Ms. is almost always used with a surname instead of a first name.

I met Ms. Allen at the grocery story.

Ms. Randolph just got home from her honeymoon.

How Do We Pronounce Ms.?

Pronounce the title Ms. as Miz (as if there were a ‘z‘ at the end). It’s important to note the South Midland and Southern U.S. standard pronunciations for Mrs. and Ms. are identical. How do you say Mrs.?

2. How To Use Mrs. Respectfully

Next, Mrs. is solely for women who are or who have been married.

  • We tend to use Mrs. almost exclusively for married women.
  • Still, not all married women choose to use this honorific.
  • Those that do will pair Mrs. with their new last name — in other words, their husband’s (also known as the woman’s married name).
  • For instance, Annika Smith marries Salvador Nunez and becomes Mrs. Annika Nunez.

“Now introducing Mr. and Mrs. Lee!”

My neighbor, Mrs. Miller, has been a librarian since 1972.

How To Say Mrs.

Pronounce Mrs. as MIS-ez with the emphasis on the first syllable. Interestingly, some North American pronunciations for Mrs. and Ms. (like South Midland and Southern U.S.) are identical.

3. How To Avoid Patronizing Someone When Using Miss

Miss is a popular honorific for young women who have never been married. Historically, it was used for ladies under the age of 30 who did not have a husband.

  • Miss is the go-to title of respect for an unmarried woman.
  • Miss tends to be the default title for girls or young women.
  • It can be used on its own or before either a first name or surname.
  • ⚠️Watch Out! Since Miss is generally for young girls, calling an adult woman miss may seem like a condescending or patronizing gesture.
  • Since it can be difficult to tell someone’s age, stop using miss if someone looks older than 20.

Miss, I can take your order whenever you’re ready.”

My daughter has Miss Patty as her first-grade teacher.

What Is Mrs. Short For?

Mrs. is short for “missus” (pronounced MIS-ez). Use this title of honor for an adult woman that is married. This abbreviation is also a respectful way to address a woman that was previously married, such as a divorcee or widowed woman. Like Miss, Mrs. can indicate a woman’s marital status while Ms. does not. Therefore, the full word for Mrs. is missus and the full meaning of Mrs. is an adult woman that is married or has been married before.

What These Abbreviations Mean:

  • 👰 Mrs. = “Missus.” Indicates a woman is or has been married.
  • 👩 Ms. = Female counterpart of Mr. that is appropriate for all adult women. It does not indicate marital status.
  • 👧 Miss = A very young girl. Can indicate an unmarried woman.
How to correctly use mrs., mis., miss. Use miss for very young, unmarried women. Use ms. when you aren't sure of a woman's marital status. Use mrs. for married, divorced, or widowed women.
Mrs. refers to a married woman. Ms. is the female counterpart of Mr. and is used to refer to adult women, regardless of their marital status. Miss is a term used to address very young girls or unmarried women.

Is Mrs. a Title?

Yes, Mrs. is a title. More specifically, Mrs. is a title of respect we use to address a married woman. You can also use it when addressing women that have been married in the past. For instance, some divorced and widowed woman may opt to use Mrs. if they continue using their married names. Otherwise, they may revert to their maiden name accompanied by Ms., which does not indicate marital status. Pronounce Mrs. as MIs-iZ.

Mrs and Ms. are both correct for adult women. The only difference is that Mrs. is almost exclusively for married women specifically.

What If the Person Has More Than One Title?

All these titles come second to an earned title or rank such as:

  • Dr.
  • President
  • Captain

For instance, let’s say you’re writing a letter to Mallory Schwartz, MD. In this case, use Dr. Schwartz rather than Ms. Schwartz.

The logic lies in the fact that any woman by default is Ms., but Mallory worked years to earn the title of a doctor.

Using her earned title (Dr.) instead of her default title (Mrs.) shows that you recognize her feat and respect her position.

What to do if you use the Wrong Title:

  • Don’t panic. It’s not uncommon when meeting someone for the first time.
  • Apologize by excusing yourself. You can use phrases like “I’m sorry, I should have asked first.” or “Forgive me, I hope I didn’t offend you.”
  • Verbally confirm which title the person prefers.
  • Say “thank you” followed by the person’s correct title (preferred title + their last name).

Is a Divorced Woman Miss Or Ms.?

A divorced woman is never Miss since this title is reserved for very young girls or women that have never been married. Since a divorced woman was married at least once, she usually doesn’t revert to Miss. Instead, she may prefer Mrs. or Ms. For example, if the woman keeps her partner’s last name, both Mrs. and Ms. are correct. However, if she opts to use her maiden or another name, Ms. is the ideal choice. When in doubt, use Ms. for any adult woman.

Since this is largely a question of etiquette, we turned to Emily Post. She explains that divorced women can choose to be a Mrs. or a Ms. — but not a Miss.

Additionally, those honorifics can be used with her married last name unless she chooses to revert to her maiden name.

After being Mrs. Carter for 15 years, I’m going back to my maiden name; I like the sound of Ms. Moore.
Notwithstanding the divorce and the way that he’s treated me, I plan to keep going by Mrs. Levy.

Is a Widowed Woman Still Mrs.?

A widowed woman is still addressed with Mrs., but it’s always best to ask the person what they prefer. Traditionally, a widowed woman is referred to using the title of respect Mrs. followed by her husband’s full name (Mrs. William Garner).

Why Is Ms. Used Instead Of Mrs.?

Ms. is used instead of Mrs. mostly because Mrs. indicates a woman’s marital status. Since this can be considered private or personal information, some prefer to use Ms. This honorific first appeared in the 1950s and firmly established itself during the Women’s Movement of the 1970s and 80s. Since Miss is usually for very young, unmarried girls and Mrs. is for women married at least once, Ms. offers a neutral alternative much more on par with the male Mr. (for married or umarried men alike).

Should I Use Miss Or Ms.?

Both Miss and Ms. refer to unmarried women. The difference between Miss and Ms. is that Miss can indicate a woman’s marital status while Ms. does not. Similarly, Miss is usually reserved for young, unmarried girls while Ms. is appropriate for any adult woman. The choice comes down to the person’s age and personal preferences. When in doubt, use Ms. However, it’s always best to ask the person what they prefer.

Ms. can also be used for or by married women who prefer a title that isn’t tied to their marital status. If you’re a woman trying to decide which title to use, the decision is yours and yours alone.

If you’re wondering how to address someone else, you can follow the rule of thumb offered by etiquette experts. They recommend using Miss for females under the age of 30 and using Ms. for those over the age of 30. The difference between Miss and Ms. is often as simple as what each person prefers.

To be absolutely safe, we recommend using 20 instead of 30 years old.

What’s in a name? Call a rose a lily and it’ll still smell sweet. Use the wrong title, and you could get the pointy end of a thorn.
Three panels. First panel shows the word Miss beside a denied symbol intertwined with an engagement ring. Next panel shows the word MS. beside an image of a wedding ring with question marks hovering above it. Last panel shows the word MRS together with a wedding ring with a check mark.
Miss, Mrs., and Ms. are popular honorifics for women.

Should You Use Ms. Or Mrs. If You Don’t Know?

Both Ms. and Mrs. are technically correct. But when in doubt, use Ms. unless you know the person is married. This is because Ms. is appropriate for all adult women. On one hand, Mrs. is reserved solely for married women. On the other hand, Ms. may refer to married or unmarried women. Interestingly, some older women may take Ms. as an insult and use Mrs. exclusively. The younger generation seems less particular.

“Do you preferMs. or Mrs.? I want to make sure we use your preferred title.”

I’ve always gone by Ms. Gotti, but once I’m married, I’m going to hyphenate my last name and become Mrs. Gotti-Lega.
I’m never sure whether to useMs. or Mrs., so I opt for Ms.unless a client corrects me.
Call me old-fashioned, but I love being Mrs. McIntyre.
Ms. Johnson and Mrs. Wallinger got married on the same day just a mile apart.

What Does Ms. Mean For a Woman?

Ms. is a title used by both married and unmarried women. It’s also a way for a third party such as a business to address customers or clients without referring to their marital status. This is useful when you want to sidestep the marital issue or just feel that it’s irrelevant. Perhaps you don’t know it and want to avoid making a blunder. It’s also often chosen by women who don’t want to be defined by their marital status.

We never knew whether Ms. Donovan was married or not as she kept her personal life very private.
I love my husband, but I chose to go by Ms. instead of Mrs. and keep my own name even after we got married.

She rather pointedly let me know that she preferred Ms. as she was not the property of her husband.

“Dear Ms. Delmonte, I’m writing to introduce myself and my business.”

I’m representing Ms. Alahad in her divorce trial.

When You’re Married It’s Mrs. or Ms.?

Both Mrs. and Ms. can refer to a married woman. If you’re married and trying to choose which title to use, good news — it’s completely up to you! Mrs. is the more traditional option, but Ms. is quite popular as well. There seems to be a bit of a generation divide here, too. Ms. picked up steam in the 1970s as a marriage-neutral alternative. It gathered even more steam when the New York Timeselected to add an honorific option in its articles. Neither option is wrong; it’s a simple matter of preference.

I always tell my etiquette students to use Ms. to address females they don’t know unless they’re sure they’re married and prefer Mrs.

I went by Ms. until I got married, thenMrs., then I got my PhD and become Dr. Stevens.

My mom is Mrs. Borresen, and I use Ms. Borresen on all my communication.

Our office forms have a spot for patients to choose whether they’re referred to as a Miss, Ms., or Mrs.

Ms. Bing, you’re up next!” “Thank you, but for future reference I prefer Mrs. Bing.”

The most important thing to remember is that all three are correct, but some honorifics are more appropriate than others in each situation. It’s mostly down to choice.

It’s also okay to ask which title someone prefers. And if you make an error, simply apologize, and use their preferred title moving forward.

They may look similar, but you can’t just swap them out. To protect yourself in personal and professional situations, it’s important to know which title to use when.

Mrs., Ms., Or Miss? Do you Know Which One To Use? Take the Quiz Below!

Difference Between Miss and Ms Question #1

The difference between “Ms.,” “Mrs.,” and “Miss” depends on a female individual’s _____.
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is D. Usage depends on the individual, their age, marital status and personal preferences.

Mrs or Miss Question #2

____ refers to a woman that’s currently or has been married in the past.
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is B. Use “Mrs.” to address a woman that is currently or has been married in the past.

Ms or Mrs Question #3

____ refers to a young girl who has never been married.
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is A. Use “Miss” to address young girls who have never been married.

Mrs and Ms Question #4

Two Cartoons on Front of White Board
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is C. When unsure, use the more neutral “Ms.” for any adult woman.

Mrs or Ms Question #5

“Mrs.” is short for “missus”.
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is TRUE. The full word for “Mrs.” is “missus”.

Ms vs. Miss Question #6

Which of these statements is TRUE?
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is B. “Ms.” offers a neutral alternative much more on par with the male “Mr.”

Mrs. or Miss Quiz Result


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Pam Weber

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, Writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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