The Difference Between Miss And Ms. — And When To Use Them

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The Difference Between Miss And Ms.

When referring to a man, there's really only one option to use: "Mr."

But there seems to be many more options for women.

While it's clear that "Mrs." refers to a married woman, what is the difference between Miss and Ms.?

And how do we know when to use them?

First of all, manners and etiquette are all about how you make people feel, so give yourself that first reminder. "Traditionally, Miss is used for unmarried women, and, of course, we use Mrs. for married. Those are very specific," says Malvina Pekerman, an etiquette expert.

Ms., however, is quite interchangeable and can be used to reference unmarried or married women.

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Says Pekerman, "After you get married, though many women take their husband's last name, others who hold onto their own last name (happening more and more often) will refer to themselves as Ms., and their own last name."

So, if you're trying to figure out how to address someone, her advice is this: "if they're unmarried and without kids you can give her a Miss, but 30 and over, we err towards Ms."

But there's more to it.

Here are six guidelines to explain the difference between Miss and Ms. — and when to use them.

1. Formal traditions.

“Traditionally, men were and continue to be formally introduced with the prefix of 'Mr.' Women, on the other hand, were formally introduced as either Miss or 'Mrs.,' which designated their marital status,” says Kevin Darné, author of My Cat Won't Bark! (A Relationship Epiphany).

Miss means a woman is single, and Mrs. means she's married. And a lot of women felt these terms were sexist.

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2. Women's evolving liberation,

With the advent of the women's liberation movement in the 1960s and 70s, the prefix "Ms." was created to eliminate the marital status designation. Says Darné, “The term Miss still indicates a woman is unmarried, while 'Ms.' is the female equivalent of 'Mr.', which has no marital status connected to it.”

3. The standard has changed.

As time went on, the prefix "Ms." has become the standard greeting for women, especially in the context of a letter or email.

“However, very few single women bother to correct anyone in person if they are addressed as Miss by insisting they be called 'Ms.',” says Darné. “There are always going to be generational pockets of people and regions of the country who never bother to keep up with the changes in society."

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4. Political correctness.

In other instances, some people simply frown upon changes in customs or decorum, which they define as "political correctness."

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5. We're not that formal anymore.

The truth is, today we live in a much less formal society.

Says Darné, “Adults are commonly introduced to children on a first name basis. [Growing up], there was always the prefix of 'Mr.,' Miss, and 'Mrs.' used as a buffer between child and adult. As baby boomers became adults, many of them did not introduce themselves as 'Mr.,' Miss, 'Mrs.,' or 'Ms.,' nor insist upon being addressed as such. The primary exceptions are within a school/learning setting, possible employer environment, and for business solicitation purposes.”

6. It's also an age thing.

Another expert had a different way of defining where to draw the line.

"Everyone is usually clear on the fact that 'Mrs.' indicates a married woman, but Miss and 'Ms.' are often used interchangeably. Historically, 'Miss' has been more appropriate when the subject is young (especially below the age of 18), and 'Ms.' is correct when addressing an older woman (over 18, but especially over 30),” says Anastasia Iliou, Senior Content Manager at Medicare Plan Finder.

She continues, ”There will be cases where an older woman feels either flattered or offended when the wrong Miss or 'Ms.' is used, but in terms of traditional, proper etiquette, age should play a factor."

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her at

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