Knowing the correct way to address a woman using “madam” teaches us appropriate (and polite) language skills. That’s why it’s good to look at the differences between “mam,” “ma’am,” and “madam” so you can start using them yourself.
What Is The Difference Between “Mam,” “Ma’am,” And “Madam”?
Mam should be used when talking about your mother and is most common in Irish and Northern British dialects. “Ma’am” should be used when you want to contract “madam” to show respect to a female superior. “Madam” should be used when you want to respect a woman without contracting it.
If you refer to the graph we’ve inserted, you will see how the usage of “madam” and the contractions have changed over time. While “madam” was once the most popular word between the 1800s and 1900s (by a large margin), it has fallen off in popularity recently.
Now, the most common phrase is “ma’am” and is typically used in British English to address a female superior (i.e., in a police department or in the army).
“Mam” is simply a misinterpretation of the spelling of “ma’am” and is only used in certain dialects, which is why it’s so low down on the graph and never fluctuates.
Is “Mam” Becoming A Substitute For “Ma’am”?
There is absolutely no indication that “mam” is becoming a substitute for the more appropriate and respectful variation “ma’am.” The two words don’t even have the same direct language roots.
“Mam” is a common word when visiting places like Ireland or Yorkshire in the UK. People use “mam” to address their mother, and it’s pronounced the same way it is written. “Ma’am” elongates the “A” letters in the middle (like “arm”) and is used to address a female superior.
There is no reason why “mam” should ever overtake “ma’am” in English, either. When it comes to respectful words like “ma’am,” they’re often guarded with much more ferocity than other language rules that develop over time and allow for external slang influences to affect them.
Is Mam An Irish Expression?
As we’ve mentioned, “mam” is one of the most common words in Ireland when you’re talking about your mother. It seems that the expression may have originated from Ireland, too.
Many Irish folks will say “mam” when talking about their mother. That’s primarily due to their accent, although over time, it’s become the correct spelling for the word in their dialect as well.
Other countries, like India, have also chosen to adopt the spelling, though it is mostly used in the wrong context. You can only use “mam” when talking about your mother. You don’t have to be from Ireland if you want to use it, but you have to make sure you’re not replacing “ma’am” with it.
Does “Ma’am” And “Madam” Have The Same Meaning?
“Ma’am” and “madam” do have the same meaning, and “ma’am” is simply a contraction of “madam.”
Both words are used to refer to a female superior officer of some kind. “Ma’am” is the more popular choice of the two, though “madam” still works. The apostrophe in “ma’am” represents the contraction (the dropped “D” letter).
It’s up to you which of the two spellings you’d rather use. Like many language rules in English, you can use two similar sayings interchangeably. However, it’s important to stick to one rule and use that all the time. If you refer to someone as “ma’am” and then say “madam” afterward, it won’t seem very formal.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that the meaning of “madam” is slowly transitioning in English, meaning that “ma’am” is the most acceptable way to say it in formal English. “Madam” is used to say that a young girl is showing bad behavior in colloquial English. A mother might say that her daughter is a “little madam” to indicate that she’s misbehaving or being unruly.
That’s most of the reason why “madam” has fallen out of the trend recently (if you refer back to the graph). Many people use it in the more colloquial sense. That leaves “ma’am” as the most appropriate option for any formal situation.
7 Examples Of How To Use “Mam” In A Sentence
Let’s look at some examples using all three of the sayings, though. We’ll start with the least related one of the bunch, “mam.” Remember, it means mother and can’t be used in any other context.
- My mam taught me everything I know.
- His mam always drops him off at seven.
- Our mam has been nothing but kind to us our whole leaves.
- Your mam looks like a very nice lady.
- That’s your mam over there, isn’t it?
- Where is your mam to pick you up?
- You’re going to be a mam!
In each of these examples, you can replace the word “mam” with “mom” or “mother,” and it would still make sense.
7 Examples Of How To Use “Ma’am” In A Sentence
Now let’s look at some examples of using “ma’am.” It’s the more formal spelling we use when we want to address a superior in some way. It’s reserved for women, as it’s a contraction of “madam,” which means woman.
- Excuse me, ma’am, but do you have directions to the palace?
- Pardon me, ma’am; it certainly won’t happen again.
- Reporting for duty, ma’am!
- Ma’am, I got those documents that you asked for.
- Good morning, ma’am; I hope you had a pleasant night last night.
- See you tomorrow, ma’am; don’t work too hard.
- Bless you, ma’am; I didn’t even see you there.
We primarily use “ma’am” as a way to show respect to a female. It’s worth noting that the woman doesn’t always have to have a position of power over us. Instead, it can simply be a polite way to talk to a woman, though it’s sometimes seen as pretentious.
7 Examples Of How To Use “Madam” In A Sentence
Finally, let’s look at the most common ways we might see “madam” written in a sentence. As we’ve said, the meaning of “madam” is transitioning slowly, so we’ll include some examples with its new and old meanings.
- Hello, madam! Would you care for a sample?
- Excuse my daughter; she’s a madam today.
- Hello sir and madam! Good evening to you both.
- Sirs go that way; madams go the other.
- You’re being a little madam, and you need to apologize right away!
- Yes, madam. I won’t let it happen again.
- I’m sorry, madam; did you say something?
Is It Rude To Say “Ma’am”?
It is not rude to say “ma’am.” Many people use it when they’re showing respect to a woman that ranks higher than they do.
Most people use “ma’am” in the army or the police force. It’s used to respect a woman with a position higher in the force than you have. It’s never disrespectful or rude to say “ma’am” to a woman.
However, in some instances (like informal ones), a woman might be a bit worried about you calling her “ma’am.” There’s a time and place for that level of formality, and sometimes a casual conversation isn’t suitable for it.
Is “Ma’am” For A Married Person?
We generally don’t use “ma’am” when we’re talking to a married person. While the word is used to show respect, it has no connotations that mean you have to say it when the woman is already married.
When we use “ma’am” to a married woman, it’s only because we’re polite and formal in tone. We’re not using it to indicate that she’s married, and we’re respecting her for that reason.
Should You Use “Mam,” “Ma’am,” Or “Madam” In An E-Mail?
In an e-mail, you can technically use all three of these words; it just depends on the recipient. Usually, you’d use “mam” if you’re sending an e-mail to your mother, so we won’t worry too much about that one.
In a formal setting, we will usually write “ma’am” to show respect to a woman. While “madam” is also acceptable, the most appropriate spelling for a well-worded e-mail is “ma’am.”
Should You Use “Ma’am” Or “Madam” In A Formal Letter?
The same thing applies here, as we’ve mentioned above. To keep a letter as formal as it can be, we want to make sure we’re keeping up with the current trends for respectful speaking and writing.
“Ma’am” and “madam” are both acceptable in a formal letter. Generally, you use “ma’am” when you’re addressing somebody you know is superior to you. However, you can use “madam” if you’re unsure of their position (or don’t know who might receive it).
Should You Call Your Teacher “Mam” Or Ma’am”?
There is nothing wrong with calling your teacher “ma’am,” but you definitely shouldn’t call her “mam.” Since she’s not your mother, “mam” is the incorrect word to use. However, if you want to be respectful, then “ma’am” works perfectly.
Should You Call The Queen “Mam,” “Ma’am,” Or “Madam”?
The word “ma’am” is most commonly used in British English. It’s also the most common way to address the Queen when you meet her. Since nobody ranks higher than her, it means she should always be called “ma’am” no matter what. If you meet her, make sure you remember that.
You might also be interested in: “Your Grace” meaning: How to address a king in medieval times
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.