Using the honorifics Miss, Ms., or Mrs. used to be a common way to address women in a formal or business setting. But as more awareness grows around nonbinary gender identities and gender-neutral pronouns and titles, these terms are becoming more and more outdated and unnecessary. However, there are ways to use the titles Miss, Ms., or Mrs. without making a potentially embarrassing or disrespectful mistake.
Avoid going into any conversation making assumptions about a person’s gender or their preferred titles or pronouns. The best way to make sure you use the right words when introducing someone is to simply ask them what they prefer.
If you’re introducing someone to a crowd in public, then be sure to speak with them ahead of time about their preference of honorific (if any). In person-to-person business introductions, you can simply ask, “how would you like to be addressed?” if you don’t already know.
You can also just skip the titles altogether and simply use a person’s name when introducing them.
The Traditional Uses of Miss, Ms., and Mrs.
Traditionally, people addressed young girls as “Miss.” They also addressed an unmarried woman as “Miss,” but then “Ms.” became more acceptable.
Feminists first began promoting the use of the term “Ms.” for women as the female counterpart to “Mr.” back in the 1950s, and it gained steam in the 1970s. It can be used by any adult woman regardless of her marital status, but it refers to adult women, not girls. It was almost always better to err on the side of “Ms.” if you were unsure of the woman’s preferred title or marital status.
The term “Mrs.” originated to refer specifically to married women, but some women prefer to keep the “Mrs.” in their names even after divorce and particularly if they’re widowed. It’s not safe to assume that all women using “Mrs.” as a title have a current or living spouse, nor is it safe to look for a wedding ring. Most women wear them, but not all do—particularly if they’d divorced, separated, or widowed. They still might want to be addressed as “Mrs.”
There’s no standard for spelling for “Mrs.” in the English language, although both “missus” and “missis” appear in literature.
A Historical Perspective
The title “mistress” is the feminine form of “mister,” but it’s virtually never used these days. As is the case with “mister,” “mistress” was traditionally considered to be marital-status neutral. It was used to refer to both married and unmarried women.
Eventually, “mistress” was split into two separate contractions to distinguish the marital status of the woman in question. “Miss” denoted an unmarried woman while “Mrs.”—the abbreviation for “missus”—applied to married women. Women then moved back toward a less-identifying term once again, adopting “Ms.” to include all adult women regardless of marital status.
“Mistress” is now generally interpreted to mean a woman who is having an affair with a married man, so it’s best to strike this term altogether from your business vernacular.
Never use the term “mistress” to identify or introduce a woman in the U.S. because it has a completely different meaning today than it did years ago, particularly in a business setting.
In 2017, Merriam-Webster added the gender-neutral honorific Mx. to its dictionary to recognize it as a title “for those who do not identify as being of a particular gender, or for people who simply don’t want to be identified by gender.”
Its pronunciation sounds like “mix” or “mux.” People are increasingly using it in the United Kingdom, but its use isn’t growing as quickly in the U.S.
Other gender-neutral options to using Mrs., Ms., or Miss include M., Ind. (for an individual), and there are many more that aren’t as common.
Let’s face it, formal letter-writing has gone the way of the pager. Once a necessary communication tool, it’s now a relic of an era before email, only to be used in specific situations.
But what should you do if you have occasion to write a letter, or its modern equivalent, the business email? And what if you have to write that letter or email to someone who isn’t a man?
Never fear, fearless writer, you’ve got this.
Do you need to use a title?
If titles confuse you, you’re not alone. A Google search for “how to address a letter” returns “to a woman,” and when you look at the recommendations for “how to address a letter to a woman,” the confusion only compounds.
If you’re really unsure, there’s an easy option:
Generally, use full names
When in doubt, it’s best to use the first and last name of any person you’re addressing a formal letter to. It’s both formal and conveniently gender-neutral!
When to use “Ms.”
Although “Ms.” has a 100+ year history, its use has been varied over the years. Some writers default to “Miss” or “Mrs.” based on their assumptions about a woman’s marital status, or because that’s how they were taught in school. But it may be time to put this system of best-guessed honorifics behind us and stick with “Ms.” for correspondence with women.
How did “Ms.” come to be? According to The New York Times Magazine the title was first proposed by an unnamed writer in a 1901 Massachusetts newspaper.
Although this first usage made a little buzz, it was quickly forgotten, and the title stayed out of the public eye for the next forty-eight years, until it appeared as a note in Mario Pei’s The Story of Language. Throughout the 1950s, “Ms.” was mentioned timidly as an expedient time-saver, without much public acclaim. Then, during the women’s movement of the ’60s and ’70s, “Ms.” took on a new, political life. This era heralded the title. Activists began to use it, Ms. magazine published its first issue, and people began to discuss the honorific as an equalizing force between men and women.
With its rich history, it’s safe to say that “Ms.” is preferred by many women of the twenty-first century. However, there are a few times when you should definitely avoid this title.
When not to use “Ms.”
If another professional title is available
If a woman has a professional title, use that instead. Women who are doctors, lawyers, professors, judges, officers, etc., should be addressed just like their male counterparts. Your recipient worked hard for her MD, JD, Ph.D., judgeship, etc., so don’t overlook the importance of the accolade and the opportunity to make a solid first impression.
Some common professional titles include:
- Dr.—In English, this can indicate either a medical doctor (MD) or someone with a doctorate in a subject (Ph.D.). Note: there is some debate about whether lawyers (JD) can use this title.
- Prof.—Used for professors at universities.
- Esq. (American) or Adv. (British)—A suffix used for lawyers.
- Hon. (American)—Used for judges and justices.
- Officer—Used for police officers and other types of law enforcement.
Please note that there are many more titles used in both the UK and the US to denote clergy, politicians, military members, and noble persons. You can refer to this guide from Project Gutenberg if you need help navigating the wide world of English honorifics.
If specifically requested not to
All women—all people, really—have different preferences, and it’s easy to respect them. If a woman specifically asks you to use another title to address her or uses it to describe herself, respect that preference. “Ms.” may be handy, but each woman is an individual human being with different views on this topic, and since “honorifics” are meant to “honor” a person, you should respect their wishes.
Also, if you mess up someone’s title in a letter or email, don’t worry! The relative obscurity of letter-writing means most people will be more forgiving with formalities than they used to. After all, we live in a world of business emojis and work-appropriate textspeak.
Don’t forget about “Mx.”
If you’re addressing someone who identifies as a gender other than man or woman, or if you don’t know the gender of your recipient, “Mx.” is a great option! This and other gender-neutral language are great ways to hedge your bets when you don’t have all the details.
November 1, 2011 By Administrator
When writing a letter, what form do I use to address a woman? When writing to a married woman, follow her preference for first and last names if you know it. She may prefer to be addressed by her original name (Ms. Joan L. Conroy). If you do know that she is using her husband’s last name, continue to use her own first name and middle initial (Mrs. Joan L. Noonan).
The form that uses her husband’s first name and middle initial as well (Mrs. James W. Noonan) is acceptable only for social purposes. It should never be used when addressing a business letter to a married woman, and it should not be used when a married woman becomes a widow unless she indicates that this is her preference.
In selecting Ms., Mrs., or Miss, always respect the woman’s preference. If it is not known, use the title “Ms” or omit the courtesy title altogether. Kelly, the examples Gregg gives are “Dear Ms. Noonan” or “Dear Joan Noonan.” I vote for “Ms.” if you don’t know her preference, and it’s business-related.
In the strictest sense of the word, socially, says long-dead and dearly beloved Emily Post, use Mrs. James W. Noonan.
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How to Format My References for a Resume
Your cover letter may be the first form of communication you have with an employer. Addressing the cover letter properly can help you get a pass to the next stage of the job search process, but knowing how to address the letter correctly is important. It is particularly important when the letter is addressed to a woman. There are many ways to address a woman, depending on whether she’s married or single, and based on the information presented in the job posting.
Whenever you are uncertain about how to address a woman in your cover letter, you can rely on using “Ms.” followed by her last name. This helps avoid the mistake of referring to her incorrectly with “Miss” or “Mrs.” This salutation also applies when you are uncertain if she holds a specific title such as a doctorate, advises Western State Colorado University’s Career Service. If she holds a doctorate, the salutation is “Dr.” followed by her last name, and it takes precedence over “Ms.,” “Miss” or “Mrs.”
Use “Miss” to address a woman in a cover letter if this is how she’s referred in the job posting. For instance, “Dear Miss Smith.” It is also the typical form used to address a woman when you know she is not married. If there is any uncertainty at all, refer back to using “Ms.”
Use “Mrs.” followed by the woman’s last name in a cover letter if this is how she’s referred in the job posting. “Mrs.” is typically the form used for women who are married. When you are uncertain whether she is married or has kept her maiden name, refer back to using “Ms.”
In some instances, you may have contact with an employer before having the chance to send a cover letter. She may tell you to call her by her first name. In this type of situation, address her by her first name in your cover letter as well. Other instances where the first name basis can apply in a cover letter is when there is email correspondence that’s already begun and in each instance, she has signed off on it with her first name when writing to you.
Respond to a Job Ad by Email →
Address a Cover Letter to a Company That Will Not Give Out Its Name →
What Can I Say at the End of My Job Interview as a CNA? →
Wendy Lau entered the communication field in 2001. She works as a freelance writer and prior to that was a PR executive responsible for health care clients’ written materials. Her writing experience include technical articles, corporate materials, online articles, blogs, byline articles, travel itineraries and business profile listings. She holds a Bachelor of Science in corporate communications from Ithaca College.
How To Address A Politically-Correct, Non-Sexist Business Letter
How to Address a Politically-Correct, Non-Sexist Business Letter
By Andrew Berman
Let us look at the standard opening phrase of a standard business letter:
Well, this is clearly sexist as it precludes the possibility that a
woman is reading the letter. We can try to fix this, however, by
This was suggested in a recent posting in a few of the gender-issue
related news groups. However, someone pointed out that by putting the
masculine title before the feminine one, unacceptable dominance was
demonstrated, making this non-PC. So, I tried to fix it:
Well, this is no good since we’re showing dominance in the other
direction. Of course, since Men are Oppressors and Womyn are
Oppressees, that may not be so bad. But it’s not *really* PC, is it?
Ok, let’s try again:
Well, that solves the problem of who goes first. Of course, the Sir
is on top now, which is completely unacceptable. Missionary style
het-sexist imagery abounds. Very bad news, probably worse than the
original. Ok, what about:
Well, I was once told that men laying on their back during sex was
sexist as they were making women do all the work. Besides, you still
have one on top of the other showing dominance. We may not sure who’s
doing what, but *somebody* is being oppressed here. Next:
Put the Sir inside the Madam, ok, neither is going first and neither
is above the other one. Ok? NO! This is terrible! The Sir has
inserted himself inside the Madam! Practically splitting her in two
with himself! How pornographic!! A man writing a letter addressed like
this to a woman is obviously making an (unwanted) sexual advance. If
he were at Antioch college, he’d be suspended for a year and have to
go through rehabilitation. Catherine MacKinnon would have a fit!
Now we put the Madam inside the Sir. Oh, now the Sir has enveloped
the Madam! Horrors, she has lost her identity, her sense of self!
This is imprisonment! Ugh, how could I have even thought of this
one?? I’m so ashamed!
Well, there’s only one answer left:
To Whom it May Concern
There. Simple, no reference to sex or sexuality, no problems. Not
very friendly, but then again unwanted intimacy is a sin. And getting
rid of friendliness is a small price to pay to make sure that
absolutely no-one is ever, *ever* offended.
aBeing able to write in a professional manner can help you improve your standing within your company and present new professional opportunities for you. By implementing good business writing tactics when communicating with coworkers, clients and higher-ups, you are demonstrating your respect toward your professional relationship. In this article, we review what business letter salutations are, why they are important to use, when they are appropriate, tips and examples.
Business Letter Format
2. Name and address
4. Opening paragraph
5. Closing paragraph
6. Complimentary close and signature
What is a business letter salutation?
A business letter salutation is a formal greeting used in professional written documents. These include business letters, job application materials and formal emails. Proper usage of a business letter salutation is important in business writing and organizational practices.
Why is a business letter salutation important?
Using business letter salutations to address your recipient is important for three reasons:
It enhances professionalism. Using the correct phrasing, punctuation and personal or professional title in a business letter salutation can demonstrate your professionalism and your strength in business writing tactics.
It makes it personal. Including the recipient’s full name in the salutation of your business letter can catch their attention, show your initiative to take the time to find that information and potentially make your message more meaningful.
It demonstrates your intent. By providing a formal salutation to greet your recipient, you are demonstrating that this letter will address a professional topic.
When should you use a business letter salutation?
There are many instances where you should include an appropriate business salutation, each with their own unique reasons:
You should use a business letter salutation in cover letters. This is often your first opportunity to address a potential employer and demonstrate your business writing abilities. Being able to use the proper salutation in your cover letter can help an employer determine whether or not they should consider you for the position.
A business email can be addressed to someone within or outside of your company. This form of business writing requires you to use the same formal salutations as you would in a paper format.
Formal business letter
This type of business document is used to address someone outside of your company. This is an instance when it would be appropriate to use a personal title in front of the recipient’s first name.
A business memo is a form of business writing used to address colleagues inside a company. For business memos, you should still use a formal salutation to address the department or group of individuals to whom you are sending the memo.
Tips for writing business letter salutations
There are a variety of rules and aspects to consider when writing a business letter salutation. Follow these tips regarding proper greetings and common practices in business letter salutations:
Start with the word “Dear”
Although in certain situations it is appropriate to use “Greetings” or “Hello” prior to the name of the recipient, using the word “Dear” to begin a business letter is a preferred and professional approach. When in doubt, use “Dear.“
Consider your relationship with the intended recipient
How well do you know the recipient? If it is a coworker, you can address them by “Dear” followed by their first name only. However, if you don’t know the recipient well enough or at all, use “Dear” followed by their full name.
Research company personnel
If you are applying to a job and the job description has left out the intended recipient for your cover letter, you can do your own research to find the name of the department head you are applying to and address your letter to that person.
Address recipient by job title
If you are applying for a job and cannot find the name of the hiring manager or individual in charge of the department within which you are applying, you can start your salutation with “Dear” followed by the senior job title most closely associated with your potential position.
Address recipient by personal title
You can address the recipient by starting with “Dear” followed by a personal title, such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” If you have the full name of the recipient of your business letter, you can enhance the formal nature of the letter by starting with “Dear” followed by a personal salutation, such as “Dear Ms. Levatson.“
When in doubt, use “Ms.”
If you want to use a personal title ahead of a female recipient’s full name, but you are unsure of her marital status, it is always best to use the title “Ms.” followed by the recipient’s name instead of “Miss” or “Mrs.“
Complete with comma or colon
There are two ways you can close your salutation: You can either end it in a comma or you can end it in a colon. Colons can be a popular choice in memo writing.
Double-check your spelling
Use online resources, such as company websites and social media profiles, to check the spelling of your recipient’s name. This can help maintain your professionalism and show your attention to detail, especially for recipients whose names have an uncommon spelling.
When in doubt, substitute “Dear (recipient name)” with “To Whom It May Concern”
If you cannot find the name or appropriate job title to use in a business letter salutation, you can use the phrase “To Whom It May Concern” as a last-resort option.
Business letter salutation examples
Here are several examples of appropriate salutations that can be applied to business letters and related documents:
- Dear Marketing Manager,
- Dear Sir or Ma’am,
- Dear Margaret Bowman,
- Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs./Miss. Bowman,
- Dear Dr. Bowman,
- Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bowman,
- Dear Dr. and Mr. Bowman,
- Dear Mr. Yu and Ms. Bowman,
- Dear Officer Yu,
- Dear Margaret, (if personally familiar)
- Dear Communications Department:
To Whom It May Concern,
While the examples above use “Dear,” you can also use “Hello,” “Greetings” or some other professional salutation. You should also avoid using “To Whom It May Concern” wherever possible since it can come across as impersonal and outdated depending on the audience. It is also usually best to use gender-neutral salutations to avoid assuming the audience’s gender, such as “Dear Margaret Bowman” instead of “Dear Ms. Bowman.”
Not sure how to address two people in a business letter properly?
Believe it or not, it’s actually simple.
You simply write “Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms.” and follow with the addressee’s last name. However, when you need to address several people in the same business letter, there are certain rules that are good to follow.
Keep in mind you might need to completely drop the names for expediting purposes, but business etiquette may require you to list certain people before others. In the end, you will need to use your discretion based on the culture of your workplace and your familiarity with the letter’s recipients.
Address multiple recipients of a business letter as individuals or as an entity
If your letter is directed to a company as a specific or whole department within that corporation, write “Dear Investor Relations” or “Dear Abacus Investments,” for example. If space permits and you are writing to two or three people, you can choose to spell out each person’s individual name.
For example, if you are on first-name terms, you can write “Dear Carl, Diana and John.” If you are not all that familiar with each person, simply write “Dear Mr. Murphy, Ms. Berner and Mr. Trout.”
Otherwise, in the case of larger groups, refer to each addressee as part of a whole, such as “Dear Members of the Board.”
Make sure you specify the names of couples who have the same address when you compose your business letter. You will need to gauge how familiar you are with each person and address your business letter accordingly.
In informal cases, write “Dear Diana and John” or vice versa. For more formal circumstances, use “Mr. Carl Murphy and Ms. Diana Berner” on the envelope.
If you know for a fact that the woman uses her middle name, you can instead say, “Mr. Carl Murphy and Ms. Diana Keener.” In formal cases, write “Dear Mr. Murphy and Ms. Keener.”
It is important to use a variety of forms when addressing your business letter via email, a method that gives you greater latitude for greetings than regular letters.
If you are unsure whom to address directly, you can simply write “Good morning” or “Greetings.” If it is appropriate in your company, you can use the casual “Hello, everyone” or just write “Hi.”
Avoid using gender-specific salutations like “Hi, guys,” or”Dear Gentlemen,” unless you are absolutely certain that the recipients are men.
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Author: Jay White
I started Dumb Little Man so great authors, writers and bloggers could share their life “hacks” and tips for success with everyone. I hope you find something you like!
How should you address a woman when you write a letter or email to her? Will she be offended if you write “Dear Madam” or “Dear Mrs + surname”?
Over the last few years, there have been some changes in standard greetings, and here are some general guidelines to help you choose between the three standard titles: Mrs, Miss, Ms.
Mrs, Miss, Ms?
The old distinction between married (“Mrs + surname”) and unmarried (“Miss + surname”) is generally irrelevant in business letters. As it doesn’t matter if a woman is married or not, use “Ms + surname”. Ms is pronounced (Mizz) and is used for all women.
Ms vs Mrs
If you are replying to a letter in which the woman has written her name as “Mrs + surname”, then it is fine to reply to her using “Mrs + her surname”.
Thank you for your letter…”
However, as explained above, if you receive a letter where the first name and surname are given, reply with “Dear Ms + surname”.
We don’t generally write “Dear Miss + surname” to women – unless they have already written to you and ended their letter with this title. So if you receive a letter from a woman who has signed it “Miss + surname”, you can also use “Miss + surname” in your reply.
“Dear Miss Jones
Thank you for your enquiry about …”
If you are writing to a person in a company whose name you don’t know, you can start with “Dear Sir / Madam”. (This is because you don’t know if you’re writing to a man or a woman.)
“Dear Sir / Madam
I’m enclosing my CV for your attention…”
If you know for sure that the person is a woman (but you don’t know her name) you can write “Dear Madam”.
Avoid these other mistakes
1. Don’t write “Dear Mrs” on it own without any name afterwards. Remember: after titles like Mr, Mrs or Ms, we need a surname.
2. Don’t write “Dear Ms”, “Dear Miss” or “Dear Mrs” followed by the first name.
3. Don’t write “Dear Madame”.
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