Many people confuse the titles “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” “Ms.,” and “Miss.” So what exactly is the difference between all these titles, and when should you use each one?
The short answer is that a man always goes by “Mr.” or “Mister” regardless of his marital status, whereas how you refer to a woman depends on her marital status and her personal preferences.
Read on to learn the meanings of each of these titles and the social etiquette for how to use them correctly.
Abbreviations of Titles for Women
First, a historical perspective might shed light on how far we’ve come with titles for women.
Historically, we referred to men as “Mister” and used the feminine form “Mistress” for women, which didn’t reveal if a woman was married or not. We don’t use the term “mistress” today. Instead it has evolved into several contractions to distinguish marital status.
In some contexts, “mistress” describes a woman having an affair with a married man, so be careful!
Today, we use “Miss” for young girls or unmarried women. “Mrs.” is the abbreviation of "missus” and refers to married women.
“Ms.” came about in the 1950s as women sought to differentiate themselves from being known by their marital status, and it gained popularity in the 1970s. Today, it’s more common to refer to a woman as “Ms.” regardless of her marital status.
Ms Meaning and When to Use
You can rarely go wrong with addressing a woman as “Ms.” Since women today don’t need to be distinguished by their marital status, addressing adult women as “Ms.” is safer than “Miss” or “Mrs.”
Ms Full Form
“Ms.” is a portmanteau of the words “Miss” and “Missus.” Because it's an abbreviation that combines these two words, “Ms.” doesn’t have a full form of its own.
Mrs Meaning and When to Use
As well as being used for married women, some widowed or divorced women still refer to themselves as “Mrs.”
You can’t assume that someone using the title “Mrs.” has a spouse; they may just want to keep the title. Especially for widowed women, it might offend them if you address them as “Ms.”
Mrs Full Form
The full form of “Mrs.” is “Missus.” The reason the abbreviation contains an R is because it represents the original title, “Mistress.”
Mrs vs Ms: How to Use Each Correctly
When you’re deciding whether to use “Mrs.” or “Ms.,” the safest option is to go with “Ms.”
However, it’s in your best interests to ask a woman about her preferred title, especially if you’re unsure of her marital status.
Miss Meaning and When to Use
We refer to young girls as “Miss.” It’s sometimes safe to call women in their twenties “Miss,” but always try to determine their preference for titles before using them in correspondences or introductions.
“Miss” doesn’t have an abbreviation. You should always spell out the full word in writing, even if you’re using it as a title before a woman’s name.
Abbreviations of Titles for Men
Titles for men are somewhat easier than titles for women, since there’s no distinction based on a man’s marital status. “Mr.” is always a safe option!
Mr Meaning and When to Use
Always use “Mr.” when referring to a man, regardless if he’s married or not. Marriage has never changed the way men are addressed.
Is the Full Form “Mister” the Same as “Mr”?
“Mr.” is an abbreviation for “Mister.” Both words are pronounced the same way.
Master Meaning and When to Use
Some people refer to young boys as “Master,” but this title is never used for adult men. So if you’re addressing an invitation for a birthday party to an 8-year-old boy, it’s okay to address it to: “Master [First Name] [Last Name].”
Otherwise, address adult men as “Mister” or “Mr.” Always use the abbreviation “Mr” (British) or “Mr.” (US) when you’re using it as a title.
Mr and Mrs: Use When Couples Are Married
In a heterosexual marriage, it’s common to see the couple referred to as “Mr. and Mrs.,” especially if the woman decides to take the man’s last name. For example, you might see a couple addressed as, “Mr. and Mrs. [Last Name].”
Mr and Mrs: Full Form
The full form of “Mr. and Mrs.” is “Mister and Missus.”
Remembering How to Use Titles Correctly: Your Cheatsheet
Use the cheatsheet below for quick reference while you’re writing:
Mrs, Ms, or Miss? Always Ask if Unsure
The above are guidelines that can help give you a starting point regarding how a particular woman might want to be addressed. But it comes down to personal preference, which you can only know if you ask.
Understanding when to use “Miss,” “Ms.,” and “Mrs.” can help you avoid misunderstandings and offending some women.
How women identify themselves reveals how they think about their identity. Since there is no hard and fast rule to help you figure this out, proper etiquette requires you to ask.
UK vs US Punctuation Rules
British and American punctuation rules around titles differ in one singular way:
- British titles do not include a period: Mr, Mrs, Ms
- American titles include a period: Mr., Mrs., Ms.
We have used a mixture of both versions throughout this article. However, make sure to pick one and make it consistent in your writing. If you’re writing for an American audience, let ProWritingAid remind you if you miss the period after a title:
If you’re unsure about a suggestion, you can click on the orange “i” icon for a reminder.