1. Forms of address

When addressing people in English we usually call our friends by their first name, for example, John or Mary. If we are speaking to someone whom we know less well, we use Mr./ Mrs./ Miss followed by the surname.

Mister, Missus, Miss alone without surname are sometimes used but are not polite, although Miss is generally accepted as a form of address to a women-teacher by primary school children.

Other forms of address are:

Sir – used to a man who is clearly older and/or more senior than oneself. It is also used:

  1. by shop assistants, waiters, etc to their male customers;
  2. by schoolchildren to men-teachers;
  3. as a polite form of address to a stranger, even if not older or more senior. However, this is not common in Britain, where the usual way of addressing a stranger (either a man or a women) is Excuse me, please. In America sir is more common in this situations;
  4. in the armed forces, to an (superior) officer;
  5. as a title (for knights and baronets), followed by the first name, for example, Sir William.

Madam – used by shop assistants, waiters, etc to their female customers. Except for this type of situation, however, madam is less widely used than sir is. It is not used when addressing women-teachers (here Mrs./ Miss with surname is used), nor when addressing an older or more senior woman. It is only rarely used to address a stranger, "Excuse me, please" being the usial form.

Doctor – used alone only to medical practitioners. When addressing a person with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Science, for example, the surname is always included, for example, Dr. Brown.

Professor – used either with or without the surname, depending on how formal or informal one wishes to be. (Simply Professor is more formal.)

General/ Colonel/ Captain, etc – also used wither with or without the surname.

Ladies and Gentlemen – to an audience

Mr./Madam Chairman – to the chairman of a meeting

Waiter/ waitress/ porter/ nurse/ etc. – to people in certain occupations. However, this usage is now becoming rare, at least as regards Waiter/ waitress and Porter. Instead people simply try to catch the waiter’s eye, for example, or say Excuse me, (please).

Officer – to a policeman. If one knows his rank, one may also address him as, for example, Constable or Inspector. In practice, however, most people approaching a policeman for information or help use Excuse me, (please), without any form of address.

Note: Commercial and administrative titles such as director and manager are never used as form of address.

Less common forms of address

Your Majesty – to a king of queen

Your Highness – to a prince or duke

Your Lordship - to a lord (peer) or a High Court judge

Your Honor - to a magistrate (Justice of the Peace)

Forms of address within the family

Small children address their parents as Mammy and Daddy. When they are older (about 10 – 11) they often change to Mum and Dad. As adults, they usually continue to use these forms, although some people (mainly members of the upper and middle classes) use the formal Mother and Father.

Grandparents are usually addressed as Granny (sometimes Gran or Nanny) and Grandad. Grandmother and Grandfather are used by some adults.

Aunts and uncles are addressed as Auntie and Uncle usually with the first name. Aunt is often used instead of Auntie by older children and adults, particularly in formal situations.

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