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23 August 2023


Etiquette evolves, and the rules of correct form are not as clear-cut as they once were, as society and attitudes have changed. We have a much richer, more diverse and interesting world because of it, although some people are unsure how to address people.

There are now different honorifics to use, such as Ms and Mx. The former is still tricky in some instances. An equal number of women will be offended if you don’t style them Ms as there are women who would be livid if you do.

Conventionally, we say Mr and Mrs, of course. But we get many emails and messages on social media asking what is wrong with writing Mrs and Mr. It’s a tricky question to answer rationally without sounding slightly chauvinistic. Our take? Fine. If you want, or someone you’re writing to wants, it that way, so be it. It doesn’t worry us.

If in any doubt as to how to style someone, ask them. For us, a person can be a different style at different times. They should choose the one that’s right for the circumstance. 

For example, in the workplace, a woman may be Ms Susan Smith, but in her social life, she may style herself Mrs John Smith.

And if someone addresses you incorrectly, correct them nicely. One of the basics of correct form is that your name belongs to you, and everyone is entitled to be addressed as they prefer. 

That said, the conventional guidelines are usually correct and a good place to start when it comes to how to address people.

Another valid question we are often asked in our etiquette courses in London or around the world is whether or not to dot (place a full stop, or period, after the honorific). The answer depends on where you are in the world. In the UK, we do not place dots or full stops after Mr, Mrs, Ms, Mstr or the like. In US English, however, they do.

Single people

ManMr John Smith
WomanMiss Roberta Black
Gender neutralMx Alex Smith
WidowMrs John Smith
Male childMstr Tom Smith

Miss or Ms? Technically, in the UK, Ms used to only be used in a business context but attitudes change. If you know your recipient would prefer to be styled Ms then do so.

Some widows prefer not to have their late husband’s first name used. Mrs Jane Smith is acceptable in such an instance.

Divorced women

Option 1Mrs Jane Smith
Option 2Miss Jane Jones
Option 3Ms Jane Smith

Many people have different views on how they wish to be styled. We suggest asking each of your friends how they wish to be styled until further notice.

Married men and women

TraditionalMr and Mrs John Smith
ContemporaryMr and Mrs Smith

Unmarried man and woman (couple)

Mr John Smith and Miss Jane Jones

Male same-sex couple

TraditionalMessrs Harris and King
ContemporaryMr Fred Harris and Mr Oliver King

Names are listed in alphabetical order by family name if one has chosen not to take the other’s family name. If they have, style the names by first name. For example, ‘Mr Fred King and Mr Oliver King’.

Female same-sex couple (unmarried)

TraditionalMses Andrews and White
ContemporaryMs Joan Andrews and Ms Paula White

Female same-sex couple (married)

TraditionalMmes Andrews and White
ContemporaryMs Joan Andrews and Ms Paula White

As mentioned above, names are listed in alphabetical order by family name.

We have more guidance on how to address people, including the British Royal Family and the peerage, in our Forms of Address section.

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