Addressing Others

Address is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it is the words and numbers you use to identify where you live or work. As a verb, it means to speak to someone.

Many of my students often ask me about how to address other people politely or at least in a way that prevents them from being offended. Unfortunately, I don't have a magic cure that keeps people from being offended because that is often related to culture and cultural expectations. I can, however, teach you language that is meant to be respectful by the use of honorifics.

Honorifics are words or titles that are used to show respect, honor, politeness, or a high status. These honorifics are useful when writing business letters and emails.

Use Miss, Mrs. or Ms. + last name when addressing women.

Use Mr. + last name when addressing men.

Mr. Jones Ms. Jones Mrs. Jones

Miss Jones

When speaking, for people whose names you do not know, you can use Sir or Ma'am. You can use Sir or Ma'am by themselves or in a sentence, but you cannot use Sir or Ma'am with a last name.

"Good morning, Ms. Jones."

or "Good morning, Ma'am."

NOT "Good morning Ma'am Jones."

If you're trying to get someone's attention, you may use Sir, Ma'am, or Miss.

"Excuse me, ma'am?" "Sir, may I help you?" "Miss, could you tell me where to find the shoe department?"

There are other honorifics that are related to people's jobs such as doctor, clergy, police officer, college professor, or politicians. If you know the honorific, then use it. If the person wants to be called something else, they will tell you.

One last note. Even though it's considered polite to use Ma'am or Sir, some people really don't like it. Again, if someone doesn't like how you address them, they will tell you.

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