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What is the Difference Between Miss, Mrs., and Ms.?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Miss, Mrs., and Ms. are all honorifics for women, but they have very different appropriate usages. Since a great deal of politics and emotion is bound up in the terms for some women, it is an excellent idea to learn to distinguish between the three. Learning about these terms can certainly help someone avoid a misstep. In the United States especially, Ms. is the generic term to use when referring to a woman that you know nothing about, particularly in the business world.

All three terms are etymologically derived from “Mistress,” as in “Mistress of the House.” Both Miss and Mrs. were in wide and often interchangeable use until the 1800s, when the meanings began to deviate. Miss came to be used to refer to an unmarried woman of any age, while Mrs. was the correct honorific for a married woman. The usage of “Mistress” to refer to a lover had curiously begun several centuries earlier.

In the 1960s, however, some women began to chafe against the use of the titles, because they believed that the terms suggested a certain sense of ownership. A “Miss” could be said to be the property and responsibility of her parents, as she was historically, and a Mrs. was the property of her husband, by being marked with his name and a change in honorific. Women wanted to find a term which could be used universally for all women without implying marital status, just as Mr. is used for men.

In 1961, Sheila Michaels thought that “Ms.” might be an appropriate middle-ground. Her discovery was probably brought about by a typo, and it took another 10 years for the term to become popular. By the 1970s, many women, along with a major feminist magazine, had adopted "Ms." as an appropriate universal title. It was an important step for the women's liberation movement, because it created a new framework for thinking about women.

Not all women use Ms. as an honorific, and some actually find it irritating. Also, in some cases, the use of “Miss” has become conventional. Teachers, for example, are often called “Miss Lastname” whether or not they are married. Critics of this practice point out that “Miss” is a diminutive term, and that using it to refer to teachers is somewhat offensive. The term is also widely used to refer to young women and girls, particularly in formal environments, as “Ms.” would seem a bit excessive for someone of a very young age.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon990066 — On Apr 04, 2015

I like to use the honorific Ms. Not from a feminist standpoint, but from a male rights standpoint. If only one possible honorific is good enough for a man (Mr.) it should be good enough for a woman (Ms.). In today's western culture, there is zero reason for the other two, in my opinion.

By anon963955 — On Aug 01, 2014

Yes, feminism is the main cause of the degradation of family. It is supposed to encourage women to be equal, not to be more than men -- just equal. However, many women treat men with disrespect and are really ambitious and don't care about children (remember men cannot get pregnant) and family. About the title Ms, Miss, Mrs., call me Mrs. I don't mind because I am married.

By anon925880 — On Jan 15, 2014

I don't think it is necessary to argue the way some people in this forum choose to. It's important to realize that others may have differing views on topics than you/I do. State your opinion in an appropriate manner and give others the chance to agree or disagree. That being said:

Feminism is for many (women and men) a way to point toward inequalities for females that have been ingrained in many societies for centuries. I would hope that every person in our society (the world) would fight for equality. Only if we recognize the social wrongs we can decide to change them.

In any way, as far as I am informed feminists do not force any fellow woman or man to join their cause, therefore I am surprised to see the hostile stance toward feminism. I am for equal opportunities for everyone, hence I encourage a peaceful, caring co-existence between everyone.

By anon359343 — On Dec 17, 2013

I was of the understanding that Master, a male under 18, changed to Mr. once of age to vote, drink, marry. Miss is for a female under 18 and Ms. once old enough to vote, drink, marry and Mrs. once married. Same as a wedding -- bridesmaids are unmarried and matron of honor if married. It seemed simple to me and nothing to do with feminist crap.

By anon354434 — On Nov 08, 2013

I agree with the first post. I am married and therefore am a Mrs. I do not like being addressed as Ms. I am proud to be Mrs. to my husband and not to address me as so is a bit rude.

By anon339592 — On Jun 24, 2013

I'm very proud of the title Mrs. and find Ms. abhorrent and lazy. I earned the title of Mrs. because I was proud of being married, raising children and being a good wife and partner. After my husband died, it became even more important to me to retain what little was left of my memories. To degrade it is an insult.

If you want to be a Ms., go ahead. But nobody thinks it's as important as you do. It just causes confusion. Are you ashamed of being single? Are you ashamed of being married? What's the big deal with being proud of your marital status if you have one? All it says is that you want to be noticed and that's very unattractive.

By anon305330 — On Nov 25, 2012

This is a post about Ms, Mrs and Miss. Not some feminazi rant about how woman degrade themselves. That is a personal choice. Sure, street prostitution is a terrible thing, but these are not things that should be discussed in this forum.

By anon286005 — On Aug 18, 2012

The word, ma'am, reminds me of mammary glands. I know it was derived from madame but still...

Retail store clerks often over use sir and ma'am. Why not just look me in the eye with a friendly smile and say, "How are you today?" with no sir or ma'am attached?

Mrs, Mr, Miss, Ms - I don't like any of them. Let's put everyone on equal ground and go by names. It doesn't seem any more respectful to me to call someone by a courtesy title they don't want.

I'm sure a lot of people respect Winston Churchill and George Washington but no one calls them Mr. Churchill or Mr. Washington. This proves that there can be respect without courtesy titles!

By anon284845 — On Aug 12, 2012

So many women today sell their bodies and are passed around like tissues to "feel empowered" when they are actually doing just what certain perverted men want. Not a day goes by when I don't see their perverted smiles. Hooray for feminism that has made my fellow women brainwashed into believing being a whore is "powerful" and not degrading at all. Oh yes, we are so wonderful. Yet many of us get sexually transmitted diseases and cry about it later.

Many of us sacrifice our children to have jobs and careers. Hooray for feminism for neglecting our children and choosing ourselves over them. I see children being abandoned all the time by my fellow women so they can have a career. They are tossed aside like trash, something that gets in the way of their own ambitions. Hooray for feminism. Hooray for us. Hooray for what the term of what being a mother is today.

It is degrading to have your husband's last name but it is not degrading to give a lap dance to some random guy who comes up to you and wants one. It is degrading to have the title "Miss" or "Mrs." but it is not degrading to treat your kids like they get in the way of your career and are a burden that hold you down.

It is good I can find humour in all of this. Even though so many are dying from sexually transmitted diseases and have kids who feel neglected and treated like a disease themselves. No wonder so many people are messed up today.

By anon278809 — On Jul 09, 2012

@anon273596: You have a major chip on your shoulder. Nothing like getting all worked up over title that is supposed to be respectful, no matter which of the three it is.

So roughly 50 percent of the world is the problem? You know a few good men, but the rest are just the problem? You can wear any title you want.

By anon273596 — On Jun 07, 2012

Feminists are the saviors of all societies. They understand the problems with patriarchy and its impact on all women. For slade in particular, having sat in court for over 20 years in a major metropolitan area, I can assure you that feminists and non-feminists have very little to do with the breakdown of the family and crime.

Men have acted with impunity since the beginning of time and are truly the problem in all societies. I have many wonderful men in my life, but one only needs to spend very little time in college psychology, gender, criminology classes, etc., to realize that it is male entitlement and oppression that cause most of the world's problems.

Feminists have empowered women to be able to choose to marry or not marry, to work or not work, to have children or not have children. People who hate feminists fear the change they see in society. More women are graduating from college with bachelor's degrees than men. Women are succeeding even while being paid much less than a man for the exact same jobs.

It is frightening for men to see women empowered. Since the advent of the birth control pill women have achieved more in those short years than since the beginning of time. Nothing can stop us now. As for the conversation about correct name titles, women need a title such as Mr. There is no reason for anyone to address any woman differently based on her marital status. This is simply antiquated patriarchy trying to define us. Ms. should be used for all women. It is time we stop placing labels on women based on their sexual availability (miss) or property status to men (mrs.) You can call me a Feminazi if you like. I wear that badge proudly and with honor.

By anon270220 — On May 21, 2012

I called someone on the bus "Madame", and it went over OK.

By slade — On Sep 17, 2011

Feminists are a scourge of society and have been the main reason the breakdown of family life and the increases of crime.

The use of Ms is another term they use to segregate themselves from society.

By anon170557 — On Apr 26, 2011

I think they should have just called all adult females "Mrs" -- married or not-- and skipped the "Ms." honorific. It's just causes too much confusion.

By anon162683 — On Mar 24, 2011

I grew up in Iowa and moved to a southern state when my son was small. His friends, whose parents are my friends, call me "Miss Firstname". It is a common practice in the south, regardless of a woman's marital status, to call a female friend who is older than you "Miss First Name". I believe the practice conveys respect and familiarity at the same time. I didn't like it at first; it seemed silly to me. But as a Sunday school teacher and daycare provider, I came to appreciate it. It became a respectful term of endearment.

In professional situations I let it be known that I expect to be addressed as "Ms. Last Name". I am divorced with a grown son, have lived a lot and am certainly not a naive "miss". "Mrs." rather offends me as I wouldn't marry, now, for all the tea in china, and if by some miracle I did, I would most certainly want to retain my individuality and independence. I think I'd choose to be called "Ms. Mylastname-His Last Name" ... unless hyphenating would make my signature a mile long. In that case I'd keep my professional title as it is: "Ms. Last Name".

By anon160207 — On Mar 15, 2011

The use of honorifics perplexes me for a few reasons.

1. Generally people do not need me to tell them their sex, gender, marital status, age, views on being defined by marital status, profession, qualifications, public office, etc., etc.

2. Ranking systems generally provide some information about an individual. Addressing or describing someone according to a particular ranking system shows that you find that information to be relevant in context.

3. Ranking systems generally carry some value judgment. Addressing or describing someone according to a particular ranking system shows you ascribe to those values.

4. How is the use of an honorific an indication of respect? Do you give people new titles if your respect for them rises? What happens if your respect for them declines? Addressing individual members of a group could be interesting! Does the number of titles indicate what respect is due?

5. If we use our own experience of a person to suggest a title we risk confusion and being misunderstood. If we use social convention to provide a title we risk being platitudinous or untrue to our views.

6. Titles define what a person is and is not. As such they have a limiting effect and suggest a refusal or inability to see the individual in their entirety. This can be useful when boundaries are important but should not be confused with greater feelings of honor.

7. Titles of public office make sense if one is addressing the office, but not if you are speaking to the individual who happens to hold that office. Similarly titles of expertise/achievement. Inherited titles seem plain demeaning in any situation.

To me it would be far more respectful and logical to move away from the tradition of using titles and towards showing addressing everybody with equal respect.

Finally, is it not plain weird to address someone according to what kind of genitals you believe them to have?

By anon144791 — On Jan 20, 2011

I know that in the US during the women's rights movement women fought tooth and nail for Ms. because they were sick and tired of discrimination in the workplace.

A slew of personal questions would be asked about how many kids you have, how many your were going to have, and Miss meant you were single and could be taken advantage of by your higher paid, older male counterparts. "Ms." is considered the equivalent to "Mr." One title, respect, no questions.

It is considered polite and formal to address someone with a title, especially if I don't know them. Typically Ms. or Mr.

It is very informal to address someone by their first name. A friend of mine explained that in Germany, people are addressed by their last names and only until they sit down and have a drink do they make it official, "OK, now we can address each other by our first names." Which seems a little much, but it underlines respect for someone's name.

I know that in PhD programs in the UK, especially science, students are spoken to by their last names, Dr. Soandso, out of a sign of respect.

By using a title to refer to someone you clearly indicate respect toward the other party. It says "I don't know you personally but recognize you as a free willed individual or I do know you personally and here is your wedding invitation Mr. or Ms. Friendofmine.

By anon142391 — On Jan 13, 2011

Wow, now I'm even more confused. Thanks Mademoiselles.

By anon138371 — On Dec 31, 2010

We can skip the whole thing and disrespect all women equally by just calling them by their names.

That way, they won't be offended when you say Mrs. or Miss or Ms. or Ma'am or lady. You see, just use their name and have no respect for them whatsoever and you're done.

I love the feminist movement. Making women single and passed around like kleenex since 1980. Now that's progress.

By anon137866 — On Dec 29, 2010

What if the woman used to be a man who was married? What if the woman used to be a single man who was the property of the U.S. military? what if the woman used to be a man or still is partially from a physical perspective, but still receives settlement payments from a lawsuit over damages from taking Viagra or a drug for his testes? Would he be a miss or a mrs. or a ms.?

By anon137863 — On Dec 29, 2010

A single, 32-year-old woman might want to go by Miss in order to seem younger, which is positive. I wonder what the direct, literal translation of "miss" is. And my dad says I can have a kid but I have to wait until I get married, so what would I be then? Should I have the kid and take Ms. because I feel "soiled"?

By anon137862 — On Dec 29, 2010

What if you are 32, single, and a teacher? I don't really want to go by "Ms." because the term makes me feel like an older woman. But on the other hand, I don't want to upset the feminist movement. I look very young, and I could really care less about what people think, so I will go by Miss. I mean, would it really have a disrespectful tone towards a teacher if she is older and wants to appear younger?

By anon129362 — On Nov 23, 2010

What happens if someone calls you by first name alone, for God's sake! it is easier.

By anon124110 — On Nov 04, 2010

I'm a married woman who didn't take my husband's name. I feel I am a Ms. under all circumstances. Say my last name is Smith and my husband's last name is Jones. Many people at my children's school call me Mrs. Smith - which I feel implies I am married to someone named Smith. That is not the case and I feel it is incorrect to call me Mrs. Smith. Better to call me Ms. Smith or Mrs. Jones - or even hey you!

By anon102415 — On Aug 07, 2010

i was always told that it was: Miss= Not married; Ms=divorced; Mrs= Married.

By anon78053 — On Apr 16, 2010

Thanks for clarifing. I prefer Ms. since I'm not married but not a teenager (27). You're right it is very professional.

By anon73608 — On Mar 28, 2010

So there is no winning this neurotic endeavor, just use whatever you like and let the frowning grouse grimace.

By anon65625 — On Feb 15, 2010

I have a question for you. My husband died. Do I keep his last name until I remarry?

By anon61115 — On Jan 18, 2010

a married woman keeping her maiden name takes what title?

By anon49460 — On Oct 20, 2009

How do you address a widow? --bhcs

By anon48850 — On Oct 15, 2009

Mrs. is an abbreviation of mistress (there is no such word as Missus) which originally was the title for an adult woman; i.e. the feminine form of Mr (mister). There was not a word for a married woman as there is not a word for a married man. In France we have Madame et Monsieur, married or single. Same in Germany. The title for all married women is Mrs.(mistress)

By anon48046 — On Oct 09, 2009

too wordy: Miss is for unmarried women. Mrs. is for married women. Ms. is for 'unknowns' and any woman who wishes to use it.

By anon36578 — On Jul 13, 2009

very interesting. Mrs. is married.

Miss is young and or not married

Ms. is don't want to say if im married or not

Hope that helped!

By anon24991 — On Jan 21, 2009

Actually, a woman is never properly addressed as "Mrs. Jane Doe". The honorific "Mrs." does not mean "I am married"; it means "the wife of". So if Miss Jane Doe married Mr. John Smith, she is properly addressed as either Mrs. John Smith or Ms. Jane Smith, but never Mrs. Jane Smith. It is not the case that the woman "takes" the man's name--this information is erroneous. It is that she becomes his wife.

So, if the woman in question kept her maiden name upon marriage, she would properly be addressed as "Ms. Jane Smith".

By dandydarling — On Aug 03, 2008

If a woman is married and wants to keep her maiden name, what is the correct title for her? Mrs. Jane (maiden name) or Miss/Ms. Jane (maiden name)?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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