Self

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

Photo: djile / Shutterstock
woman shaking hands

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, how do we know when to use Ms. or Miss?

What does Miss mean?

Miss is often used to refer to an unmarried woman. Historically, "Miss" referred to unmarried women of high status, and was a contraction of the word "mistress."

Unlike using the word "ma'am," Miss is used to address young women, women who are unmarried, or as a term of respect.

What does Ms. mean?

Ms. is a more formal title for an unmarried woman, or a woman for whom you are not sure of her marital status or as the preferred title for an adult woman who does not wish to be defined by her relationship status.

Ms. is the female equivalent of Mr., which was created through in the 1950s and became more popular through the 1970s women's rights movement; both married or unmarried women used the title Ms.

RELATED: 10 Pros And Cons Of Changing Your Name After Marriage

What is the difference between Miss and Ms.?

Simply put, Miss is a formal title for an unmarried woman, while Ms. can be used for women who are married or unmarried.

"Traditionally, Miss is used for unmarried women and, of course, we use Mrs. for married women. 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.

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

When addressing someone, Pekerman adds, "If they're unmarried and without kids, you can give her a Miss; 30 and over, err towards Ms." But there's more to it.

Is there a gender neutral title alternative?

In 2016, the dictionary added "Mx." as a gender neutral honorific for people who don't wish to be identified by their gender. Mx. serves as an alternative for not just Miss or Ms., but for Mr. as well.

However, because this word isn't gender specific, it doesn't refer to a marital status and is instead used as a sign of respect in front of a person's name. Mx. is pronounced like "mix" or "mux."

Advertisement Need someone to talk to? Get support from a licensed therapist at BetterHelp. Sign up today and get 15% off!

RELATED: Etiquette 101: Should You Use Mrs. Or Ms. For A Widow On A Wedding Invitation?

When To Use Miss vs. Ms.

1. Wedding invitations

If you are a bride addressing your wedding invitations, it's important to make sure your guests feel respected. That means understanding whether to use Miss or Ms. for an unmarried guest.

Because wedding invitations are an incredibly formal part of wedding planning, be sure to use the proper title on the envelope as well as the actual invitation.

So, use Miss when the guest is under 30 years old and unmarried, and Ms. if you aren't sure of their marital status, or if the guest's preferred title is more neutral in terms of her marital status.

2. Formal vs. informal instances

The truth is, today we live in a much less formal society. With the advent of the women's liberation movement in the 60s and 70s, the prefix "Ms." was created to eliminate the marital status designation.

Says dating and relationship advisor Kevin Darné, “Very few single women bother to correct anyone in person if they are addressed as Miss by insisting they be called 'Ms.' 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."

In informal situations, it's acceptable to call an unmarried woman Miss or Ms. interchangeably; however, in formal settings, it's best to stick with Ms., especially considering the way we teach children to use these words as a form of respect.

“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," Darné says. "The primary exceptions are within a school/learning setting, possible employer environment, and for business solicitation purposes.”

3. Age

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, a content marketing manager.

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

RELATED: Why My Fiancé And I Are Both Changing Our Last Names After We Get Married

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.

Sign up for YourTango's free newsletter!