Miss, Mrs., and Ms., while all titles used for women, have very different implications.
“Mrs.” is used for a woman who is married (or who has been married, since she may be widowed or divorced) and has taken her husband’s name. “Miss” is a title of respect used for an unmarried woman or a young girl. “Ms.” can be used for a married or unmarried woman; this title does not indicate marital status.
The Etiquette of Miss, Mrs., and Ms.
Miss, Mrs., and Ms. are all titles of respect, but using them incorrectly could actually cause offense—all the more reason to know when to use each one.
When to Use “Mrs.”
Mrs. is used to indicate that a woman is married, widowed, or divorced.
- Although my mother’s friend insists that I call her by her first name, I prefer to call her Mrs. Clark out of respect.
- Mrs. Carlton is an experienced choreographer.
Sometimes, while less common nowadays, “Mrs.” precedes the first and last name of a woman’s husband rather than her own name.
Reserve this use of “Mrs.” for when you do not know the woman’s name or for formal written correspondence.
- We should address the invitation to Mrs. Bernard Kale.
- You need to reserve this seat for Mrs. Leonard Brooks.
When to Use “Miss”
Miss is used before an unmarried woman’s name. This is the title you should use when addressing young girls and women under 30.
- The invitation was addressed to Miss Scarlet Johnson.
- This is our 2019 high school valedictorian, Miss Angela Ross.
When to Use “Ms.”
Use Ms. when you are not sure of a woman’s marital status, if the woman is unmarried and over 30, or if she prefers being addressed with a marital-status neutral title.
In many ways, Ms. has become the female equivalent of mister.
- Ms. Callahan is retiring this year after her years of service as an elementary school principal.
- Ms. Angelina Jolie will be giving a speech at the awards ceremony.
When In Doubt, Ask
In the end, the title you use should be dictated by the preference of the woman herself.
In business correspondence or for formal invitations or programs, it’s a good idea to do a little research on the woman’s background so you can choose the most appropriate title.
However, if you are unsure what title a woman prefers, it is best to default to “Ms.” You run less risk of offending someone by using this more neutral title.
More articles to improve your writing and grammar:
- Which or That? Know the Difference
- Flier or Flyer: The Difference Explained
- Getting a Handle on Colloquialisms: Using Regional Terms, Expressions, and Dialect
- Bear with Me or Bare with Me? Proper Grammar Explained by an Editor
- He Said, She Said: Grammar and Options in Dialogue
- Its or It’s: Grammar Explained by an Expert
- Affect vs. Effect: Word Usage Explained
- i.e. vs. e.g. Grammar Rules Explained
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.