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Miss., Mrs., or Ms.?

The Quick Answer
Should you use Miss., Mrs., or Ms. when addressing a woman in a letter or email?

Even though there are several nuances to consider (see below), in general terms:
  • Miss. is used for an unmarried woman.
  • Mrs. is used for a married woman.
  • Ms. is used for a married or unmarried woman.
If you're unsure of the woman's marital status (single, married, divorced, or widowed), then use Ms., which will be safe 99% of the time.

Note: Ms. (from Mistress) is the female equivalent of Mr. (from Mister).

Miss., Mrs., and Ms.

Writers are often unsure whether to use Miss., Mrs., or Ms. when addressing a woman in an email or letter.

The titles (or honorifics as they're really called) Miss., Mrs., and Ms. are all contractions of the word Mistress. In general terms:
  • Miss. denotes an unmarried woman.
  • Mrs. denotes a married woman.
  • Ms. offers no indication whether the woman is married or single.
However, these are not 100% rules, and there are some nuances worth learning if you do not wish to offend.

Ms.

The contraction Ms. is short for Mistress.

Mistress is the female version of Mister (which is shortened to Mr.). Neither Ms. nor Mr. tells us the marital status of the person.

When referring to a woman whose marital status is unknown, it is nearly always safe to use Ms. It is also nearly always safe to use Ms. if the woman has been divorced or widowed and it is unknown whether she wants to remain a Mrs. or revert to Miss.

Unfortunately, even though using Ms. ought to be 100% safe in all circumstances, some married women believe it to be a lower status than Mrs. Therefore, to eliminate completely the risk of causing any offence, you will need to do some investigative work to find out what title the woman uses for herself.

Mrs.

Like Ms. and Miss., the contraction Mrs. is short for Mistress. It is used for a married woman. Mrs. can also be used for a divorced or widowed woman who wishes to retain the title.

The reasons for retaining the Mrs. title are personal and varied, but they include (1) ensuring the children's parents have the same surname, (2) maintaining respect for a deceased husband, (3) warding off future suitors, and (4) maintaining the kudos of a famous husband.

Also of note, some married woman prefer Ms. over Mrs. as a sign of independence, and some even use Ms. in a work setting and Mrs. in a home setting. Therefore, to eliminate completely the risk of causing any offence, you will need to do some investigative work to find out what title the woman uses for herself.

Miss.

Like Ms. and Mrs., the contraction Miss. is short for Mistress. It is used for an unmarried woman.

It is highly appropriate to use Miss. for a young girl or woman below marrying age. Miss. can also be used for a previously married woman, but you should only use Miss. if you know the woman uses this title for herself. Using Miss. for a divorced or widowed woman carries the connotation that she is available to suitors, and this could offend her.
Note

Should I Use a Full Stop / Period after an Honorific Title?

Titles like Dr., Ms., and Miss. are known as honorifics. In the US, readers expect an honorific to be followed with a period. In the UK, a period (or full stop) is less common but is acceptable.
  • I know Ms. Jones. () ()
  • I know Ms Jones. () ()
Read more about using periods / full stops in contractions.

What Are the Plurals of Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Miss.?

Below are the most widely used plurals for the honorifics Mr., Ms., Mrs., and Miss.:
  • The plural of Mr. is Messrs. (pronounced "messers").

  • Messrs. Smith and Jones cannot attend.

  • The plural of Miss is The Misses.

  • The Misses Smith and Jones cannot attend.
    (The Misses tends to drop the period / full stop even though it is a contraction.)

  • The plural of Mrs. is Mesdames (pronounced "maydahm").

  • Mesdames Smith and Jones cannot attend.
    (Mesdames drops the period / full stop because it is not a contraction.)

  • The plural of Ms. is Mss. or Mses. (pronounced "mzes").

  • Mss. Smith and Jones cannot attend.

How Do You Pronounce Ms.?

The honorific Ms. is pronounced "mz" (with a short "uh" sound between the "m" and the "z").