Titles in English

When we address people, we use certain conventions of style called Titles.

These come before a person’s name when we are talking about them (or to them).

They are usually used in formal situations or when we are being polite.

General Titles

These are general titles for men and women which we might use when we talk to someone we do not know well or when we want to show respect (e.g. to the parents of a friend, your boss, at an interview, etc).

Title Use

Mister or Mr. men
Mrs. married women
Miss unmarried women/girls
Ms. women
Madam women (very formal)

All these words come before the person’s last name:

Good morning, Mister Bond. How are you today?

Can I speak to Mrs. Jones, please?

Will Miss Moneypenny please come to reception?

Take this letter to Ms. Galore’s office.

When we talk about a married couple, we often say:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith…

We can also use Mr. or Madam before the title of someone very important when we are talking to them and put it with their office:

But Mister President, this would mean war!

I wish to object, Madam President!

Titles in the Classroom

In many countries teachers are addressed as Mr. or Miss:

I haven’t done my homework, Mr. Carter.

But Miss Jones, it’s time to go!

Notice that even though a female teacher may be married, she will often be addressed as Miss in the classroom.

When students talk to the teacher and do not use their last name, they usually use just sir or miss:

But Sir, the dog ate my homework!

Miss, can I go to the toilet please?

Other Titles

Aside from these usual titles above, there are many titles used to denote positions of authority or rank. These include:

General, Major, Colonel…

Archbishop, Rabbi…

President, Baron, King…

In the picture above, we have several options:

Mr. Clooney & Mr. Obama.

Mr. George Clooney & President Obama

President Barack Obama and Mr. Clooney.

Common Mistakes

In many countries and languages a title can go with the first name and if you are teaching abroad you may well hear this, however this is generally wrong in English:

* Mr. John, can I leave early?

An asterisk means this is wrong.

A common mistake is also made by many Americans with British titles:

* Prime Minister Cameron…

In British English Prime Minister is not a title which goes alongside a name; instead it replaces the name.

* Sir Kingsley…

With Knights, the title goes with the first name and not the last.

Sir Ben or Sir Ben Kingsley

Useful Links

A long list of titles are on Wikipedia.

Posted in English Usage.

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