Although the distinction between Mrs. and Miss or Ms. may seem straightforward, there is much to learn about all three feminine nouns. Knowing when and how to address a female recipient of a comment, question, or written correspondence using the titles “Miss,” “Ms.” and “Mrs.” can help you guarantee that you are being respectful. These are the primary uses of the titles for addressing letters, invitations, emails, cards, and people in conversations, but there are always exceptions.
There are a few basic etiquette rules that make it easy to remember whether to use Mrs. and Miss or Ms.:
- Unmarried minors under 18 are referred to as “Miss.”
- Women who are single or whose marital status is unknown are addressed as “Ms.”
- For married or widowed ladies, “Mrs.” is used.
While these are the broad guidelines for using Mrs. and Miss or Ms., it is advisable to study before using any of these pronouns to address a woman. If you address a married woman as “Miss,” you risk offending her. Asking the woman which title she prefers is the best approach to determine which to use.
Hannah Chen, CEO, and Founder of Smart Singapore provides a background. “Mrs. and Miss or Ms. are all female honorifics, but their proper uses range greatly. Learning to differentiate between the three is a fantastic idea because, for some women, politics and emotion are entwined in the terminology. Knowing what these terms mean can undoubtedly prevent a mistake. Particularly in the corporate sphere, in the United States Ms. is the generic phrase to use when referring to a lady you don’t know. The origin of all three names is “Mistress,” as in “Mistress of the House,” and Miss and Mrs. were widely used and frequently used interchangeably until the 1800s when the meanings started to diverge. Mrs was the proper title for a married woman, but Miss. started to be used to refer to an unmarried woman of any age. Curiously, several centuries previously, the term “Mistress” had first been used to describe a lover.”
Danny Dorsey is the CEO of Everlast Recovery Center. His opinion is: “Using prefixes in the workplace can sometimes lead to prejudice or discrimination, particularly regarding gender and race. For example, some women may prefer to use the prefix “Ms.” instead of “Miss” or “Mrs.” as it is more gender-neutral and does not reveal their marital status. However, some people may still use Mrs. and Miss or Ms. to stereotype or discriminate against women in the workplace. Similarly, some individuals with prefixes such as “Dr.” or “Professor” may be seen as more credible or qualified, while others without those prefixes may be overlooked or underestimated. Additionally, in some cultures, professional titles are not considered important, and the lack of prefixes can be seen as a sign of humility and respect. In contrast, in other cultures, using prefixes can be seen as a sign of respect and professionalism. Therefore, the perception of prefixes can vary depending on cultural background, and it’s essential to be aware of the cultural nuances and use them respectfully and in the workplace.”
“To this day, Mrs. still implies that one is a married woman. It’s still used on government documents, which carry on into the workplace. Mss or Miss, on the other hand, indicates that someone identifies as a female and is most likely single. It’s typically used for younger-looking women, although not heard as often anymore, Ma’am is still used to refer to older, perceived as single women,” explains Kanyarat Nuchangpuek, co-founder and CEO of the startup Ling, a gamified language learning app.
“Let’s start with explaining the difference between the prefixes Mrs. and Miss or Ms. The first one is used to address a married woman, Mss. is the least used, as it refers to a woman who is relatively young and who we’re confident is not married. You can hear it more often in high school and university, but it rarely appears in the workspaces, as it may be perceived as belittling by some, so I’d recommend not using it at all unless the person is fine with it. Lastly, Ms. is about women whose marital status we do not know, or they are unmarried but rather older – some people say the barrier starts at 30, but it’s always better to use Ms. instead of Mss. when we’re not sure where is the age barrier,” explains Dubravka Davidovic, head of content at AskGamblers.com.
She continues, “Because my company is a small one, everyone knows each other well. People know that I’m married therefore, they use the Mrs. prefix, but they are also very open, and I’m sure that if I had asked them to use a different prefix, they would do so without any problems, so if someone does not feel comfortable being called Miss, they should simply ask not to be called so anymore.”
Shirley Borg is working as Head of Human Resources of a team awarded with HR Quality Mark by the Foundation for Human Resources Development (FHRD) at Energy Casino. She says: “We decided against using any such prefixes in our internal or external communication. Addressing women in the workplace by Mrs. and Miss or Ms. prefixes might promote gender stereotypes and lead to assumptions about one’s personal life, which is their marital status. It may also be seen as dismissive or minuscule, which can have a negative impact on employee morale and productivity. Even the more neutral “Ms.” prefix should be avoided.”
Shirley adds, “Remember that not all etiquette rules are always morally good or kind. It’s OK to change your approach! To eliminate biases or misconceptions, it is preferable to utilize a person’s professional title or address them by using their name. We decided to opt for a first name, as it’s a much more friendly and nice approach. An example could be addressing a female employee who recently divorced or separated. Addressing her with “Mrs.” can cause her discomfort or embarrassment, especially if she is not ready to share the changed things about her marital status with her colleagues. It’s straightforward to avoid situations like this by simply choosing a different approach to speak to employees in general.”
Today, personal prefixes are somewhat antiquated and not usually necessary. Plus, they can get you into heat when you accidentally use the wrong one. Your best bet on personal prefixes is to skip them entirely unless explicitly told to use them by a specific person. Instead, use the first names or chosen names of whomever you’re speaking to offer respect and recognition to the individual.