How to address people
Written by William HansonThe English Manner, The UK’s Leading Etiquette and Protocol Training Institute 310 310
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William joined The English Manner in 2008 before taking ownership in 2019. He is widely regarded as the freshest and most trusted authority on etiquette and civility, with his relative youth and old-fashioned values making him an arbiter of modern manners.Connect with William Hanson on LinkedIn Follow William Hanson on Instagram
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.
|Man||Mr John Smith|
|Woman||Miss Roberta Black|
|Gender neutral||Mx Alex Smith|
|Widow||Mrs John Smith|
|Male child||Mstr 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.
|Option 1||Mrs Jane Smith|
|Option 2||Miss Jane Jones|
|Option 3||Ms 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.
|Traditional||Mr and Mrs John Smith|
|Contemporary||Mr and Mrs Smith|
|Mr John Smith and Miss Jane Jones|
|Traditional||Messrs Harris and King|
|Contemporary||Mr Fred Harris and Mr Oliver King|
Names are listed in alphabetical order by family name.
|Traditional||Mses Andrews and White|
|Contemporary||Ms 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. Or you may enjoy our Names, Titles and Forms of Address webinar in November 2023.