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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Here's How to Know the Difference Between "Miss", "Mrs.", and "Ms."

"Dear Mrs. Galloway," You begin the letter simply enough but the reader on the other end only rolls her eyes, laughing, and somewhat annoyed at the incorrect use of the title "Mrs.". That response is not even close to what you wanted for your communication, but there's a reason for it: She's 17 years old and isn't planning to get married anytime in the near future.

Knowing the correct way to address someone in a letter or phone call is not only a good idea—it's a way to ensure that the purpose of your letter or call isn't overshadowed by potential offense to the recipient. Small slights in communication etiquette can make a difficult situation even worse if you're trying to resolve it via written communication or a telephone call.

For example, it's a common misconception that "Miss" and "Ms." mean the same thing. Or that all women can be referred to as "Miss" or "Mrs." These titles have three entirely different connotations and anyone who uses them should know the difference between the three—especially if they perform a job or function that requires a lot of written and verbal communication skills.

So, let's look at the meaning of each title and how to determine if it should be used to correctly address the recipient of your letter or phone call. A simple review, such as the one offered here, can save you time and stress, and help ensure your communication efforts happen as smoothly as possible.

It's important to correctly address the recipient of your letter with the correct title
It's important to correctly address the recipient of your letter with the correct title. Photo by John-Mark Smith from Pexels.

Using "Miss" correctly

When preceding a name, "Miss" is used to respectfully address an unmarried woman. It can also be used alone, without a name preceding it, to address her. The correct way to pronounce this title is [Mis] (rhymes with "this").

You'll also see the term used as a tease or reference to a woman's personality traits, such as "Miss Perfect" or "Miss Manners," although this use of the word is not considered to be formal.


  • Miss Myers, please contact our office as soon as possible.
  • Excuse me Miss, but I think you left something behind.
  • She acts like Miss Know-it-all but is mostly unaware.

Settings in which you will use "Miss"

In a formal setting, it is best to use "Miss" in front of an unmarried woman's last name (surname). Some common examples of formal settings include business interactions, professional communication with business associates or employers, addressing someone in a position of authority, addressing someone you don't know personally, etc.). Slightly less formal is the use of "Miss" in front of an unmarried woman's first (given) name, and this should only be done if you have permission to do so. In many cases, if a woman does not wish to be referred to in a formal manner, she will let you know: "Oh, you can just call me [name]."

However, it is acceptable and polite to simply use "Miss" when verbally addressing a stranger whose name you don't know, but this is not typically done in written communication. For example, if you encounter a woman (of any age) on the street who has dropped her scarf, you could get her attention by saying: "Excuse me, Miss. Is this yours?"

In informal settings (such as friends, close acquaintances, and family members, etc.), using "Miss" in front of a word that describes the person to whom you're referring is acceptable, although be careful—you can still hurt someone's feelings if the descriptive word is not a compliment. For example, "Miss know-it-all" is a commonly used expression to refer (in a somewhat derogatory manner) to a woman who corrects others often.

Using "Mrs." Correctly

"Mrs.", when preceding a name, is a title used to respectfully address a married woman. It is similar to the use of "Miss" in that it is most often used along with a woman's surname. In the past, it has been used along with the husband's first and last name to refer to his wife (Mrs. Donald Smith), but this practice is considered outdated. Some women might even take offense in it, so it is best to avoid it if possible.

The correct way to pronounce this title is [Missus] (rhymes with "miss us"). In fact, you'll often see the title spelled out as "Missis", "Missus", or "Mizzus" in dialogue, to denote exactly how a character pronounces it.


  • Mrs. Jones owns the floral shop down the road.
  • I think you're a wonderful person, Mrs. Annette.
  • I'll ask the missus what she thinks of having dinner tomorrow night.

Settings in which you will use "Mrs."

In a formal setting, such as in a business or professional context, you will likely use "Mrs." before a married woman's last name to address her politely. As with "Miss," you can also use "Mrs." before a married woman's first name, but you should wait for permission or an invitation to do so.

However, very rarely will you see "Mrs." or "Missus" used alone, without a surname or given name following it. When it is used alone, it is usually mentioned in an informal way, such as a friend asking another friend: "Are you and the missus joining us for dinner?" This is another way that "Mrs." differs from "Miss".

Using "Ms." correctly

If you are unsure about a woman's marital status and are addressing her in written communication, "Ms." is the preferred title to use. Think of it as the opposite of "Mr.", which is used to refer to a man, regardless of his marital status. The correct way to pronounce this title is [Miz] (rhymes with "fizz").


  • Dear Ms. Jenner,
  • Ms. Lyle is the new principal of Belleview High School

Settings in which you will use "Ms."

As stated earlier, "Ms." is the preferred term in written communication to refer respectfully to women whose married status is unknown. In this sense, many editors and journalists will use this term to cover their tracks in case "Miss" or "Mrs." Is incorrect.

As with "Mrs.", the use of "Ms." as a standalone word is not typical.

Getting around all three terms

Speaking of editing and journalism, a recent trend in many publications has been to use the first and last name of the woman without including either of the three titles ("Miss", "Mrs.", or "Ms.). However, this is not as acceptable in spoken communication, where "Miss", "Mrs.", and "Ms." are still preferable (as long as the right one is used.

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