Miss, Ms., Mrs., and Mx. are not interchangeable terms. Addressing someone with the wrong title can be offensive, so it is important to know the difference between these four prefixes. The guide below will describe how they have been used historically and how to use them now. Here’s a general guideline: If someone tells you they prefer a certain title, then that’s the one that you should use to address them.
“Miss”, when prefacing a name, has been a title of respect for a female child and an unmarried woman. It’s been used by itself (as a term of address) or combined with a name, a descriptor of a prominent characteristic, or something that the person represents.
Miss Sarah Green won the science fair.
Excuse me, Miss. You dropped your bag.
Aren’t you Miss Jacobs from the library?
You’re certainly Miss Congeniality today.
Traditionally, in formal settings, people would use “Miss” along with an unmarried woman’s last name, regardless of how well they know the woman in question. It was also used when it was unknown if the woman was married or not. The title was used for women in positions of authority, like teachers or supervisors. In settings like this, it was considered polite to continue using the “Miss” title and use the addresses first name only when invited.
In present-day use, “Miss” is considered more appropriate for young women. The connotation of “Miss” as a woman who is not married is loaded by today’s standards because many women don’t want to be addressed in a way that eludes to their marital status.
Note: In some regions, “Miss” appears with a first name, as a sign of respect or fondness. But when coupled with a full name, “Miss” can also be used as a forerunner to reprimanding, especially when used in reference to a child.
Thanks for the invitation, Miss Janet. We’ll see you tonight!
Miss Tamara Jasmine Hunter! Get in here right now!
Traditionally, “Mrs.” has been a title of respect for a married or widowed woman. Just like the use of “Miss”, it appeared with names and characteristics. Sometimes the title included their husband’s first and last name. This tradition is becoming less common however, as women usually like to be addressed by their own name.
Mrs. Vanmeter was my seventh-grade English teacher.
Address an envelope to Mrs. Richard Vaughn.
In professional (and otherwise formal) situations, when addressing a married woman, and when speaking to a woman in a position of authority, it was customary to use “Mrs.” along with their last name. Again, it was appropriate to wait for the invitation to drop the formal title before using their given first name.
Mrs. White is an amazing nurses aid.
In modern times, “Mrs.” is used less and less frequently, particularly in professional settings. Although, it still appears as a preference on most official forms and documents.
What if you didn’t know whether someone is married or not? Unlike “Miss” or “Mrs.”, “Ms.” does not indicate a woman’s marital status, so it became a good choice when you didn’t have that context. The title became used in the 1950s and grew in popularity during the women’s movement of the 1970s, as “Ms.” seemed an acceptable alternative to “Mister,” which is a title of respect for both unmarried and married men.
It’s wonderful to meet you, Ms. Ruiz.
The prefix “Mx.” was added to Merriam-Webster Unabridged in 2016 (although it appeared in print as early as the late ’70s.) The designation functions as a gender-neutral substitute to titles like “Mr.” and “Ms.” And—similar to “Ms.”—it does not indicate marital status. As with the other titles covered here, “Mx.” is typically used in conjunction with a person’s name, as a sign of respect.
This is Mx. Ward, and they head up the bookkeeping department.
According to Merriam-Webster, “Mx.” is most often used by individuals who identify outside of the gender binary. But, like the other titles described here, it’s not an all-purpose title—some people may not like it or prefer no title at all, but others may fully welcome it—so it’s best to just ask what someone prefers.
It should be stated that Mx. remains uncommon in the United States, although a certain surge in its use has been taking place.
Selecting “Miss” or “Ms.”
“Miss” and “Ms.” both apply to women who are not married or whose marital status is not known. Whichever you use should depend on the preference of the person you’re addressing. If you’re not sure, consider “Ms.”; it’s a more acceptable option as it’s marital status-neutral. Funnily enough, some newspaper editors avoid the issue altogether by omitting titles and referring to men and women by their full names instead. However, newspapers will usually retain the titles if they appear in a quote.
In the game of love, track star Sydney McLaughlin just struck gold. She announced her engagement to Andre Levrone Jr. with a heartfelt letter to her “future husband.” – E! Online
“I love kids and I love when they experience that a-ha moment and watching the light bulb go off,” said Mrs. Chasse. “I like what I do and I like knowing that I’m making a difference in the future so it’s fun, it’s rewarding.” – NBC Connecticut
To use “Ms.”, you’ll apply the same rules as you would for “Miss” and “Mrs.” and couple it with a person’s name, or use it all on its own as a form of address. There are differences in pronunciation, however, between those two titles, which are explained below.
How to pronounce them
The pronunciation of each of these titles depends on geographic location. Starting with the easiest: “Miss” rhymes with “this” in all geographical regions.
However, “Mrs.” might sound like “mis-iz” or “mis-is” in the North or North Midland parts of the United States, yet Southerners might pronounce “Mrs.” as “miz-iz” or even “miz.” And, making things more difficult, “Miz” is also the pronunciation of “Ms.” Therefore, in the South, “Mrs.” and “Ms.” may sound similar if not identical.
Finally, “Mx.” can sound either like “mix” or “mux.” You’re more likely, though to hear it spoken out loud in the UK than in the US because the term is more widely known and used there.
American vs. British: Crossing the Pond
In British English, you might see “Mrs.” spelled out as “missus” when in print, though this is not common in American English.
Related: British versus US Spellings.
Asked when he will take George to his first football match, the Duke replied: “I don’t know, I’ll have to pass that by the missus, see how I can get away with it. At the moment, being only 22 months, it’s a little bit early.” – The Guardian
Another big difference is punctuation—Brits don’t use a period after Mrs. or Mx., but Americans do:
Even before the whole truth comes out, Mrs de Winter changes a menu without consulting Mrs Danvers, taking charge of Rebecca’s old empire. – The Independent
In November High Street lender Metrobank started to offer the “Mx” prefix on its forms. – BBC News
While most people use titles like “Miss”, “Mrs.”, “Ms.”, and “Mx.” to show respect, you can run the risk of offensiveness if you don’t use them right. So it pays to know how each one works. As a reminder: It’s always best to adhere to a person’s title and pronoun when you address them. This way, you’ll be able to build empathetic relationships with the people in your life.