Miss., Mrs., or Ms.?

by Craig Shrives

Miss., Mrs., or 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:
  • Ensuring the children's parents have the same surname.
  • Maintaining respect for a deceased husband.
  • Warding off future suitors.
  • Maintaining the kudos of a famous husband.
Also of note, some married women 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.

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").
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? Ms., Miss, or Mrs? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are contractions? What does connotation mean? When to use a comma with Dear, Hello, and Hi at the start of a letter When to use Yours faithfull and Yours sincerely at the end of a letter List of easily confused words