Mrs. or Ms. When You Don’t Know if a Woman is Married?

When you’re addressing women in formal writing, you need to know which title works best. This article will explore the titles of “Mrs.” and “Ms.” to help you understand which to use. We’ll focus on whether you know a woman is married to see which is most appropriate.

Mrs. or Ms. When You Don’t Know if a Woman is Married?

You should always use “Ms.” in an email if you do not know a woman’s marital status. You may find that “Miss” works as well for both married and unmarried women. “Mrs.” only ever refers to married women, so you should avoid them in letters unless you know for sure.

mrs or ms when you don't know

“Ms.” and “Miss.” allow you to refer to a woman formally without assuming they are married. This helps to avoid any uncomfortable situations where a woman might have to explain that she’s not married after you call her “Mrs.”

While some women don’t mind being called “Mrs.” out of politeness, there are those that are separated or widowed that might be more sensitive about the subject. Therefore, it helps for you to be sensitive too, just to make sure you don’t hurt her feelings.

When to Use “Mrs.”

“Mrs.” only works when a woman is married. If you know for sure that a woman is married, you can call her “Mrs.” when you are addressing her in a formal letter or email.

Most of the time, it’s up to the woman to determine which title works best for her. Most women will announce themselves as “Mrs.” when they want to be called such.

Here are some examples to show you how to use “Mrs.” in a sentence:

  • Dear Mrs. Smith,
  • I would like to talk to you about this subject.
  • Thank you,
  • Dean
  • Dear Mr. and Mrs. Harrington,
  • I think it’s important that we discuss these matters soon,
  • Kind regards,
  • Jonathan
  • Hello Mrs. Bracknell,
  • I hope you’ve been well. I look forward to hearing from you soon,
  • All the best,
  • Sarah

When to Use “Ms.”

“Ms.” is a suitable title for both married and unmarried women. It is used when you are unsure about the marital status of the woman you are addressing. It’s the most polite way to refer to a woman without assuming that she is married.

Using a title like “Ms.” helps you to avoid any awkward situations when a woman might need to explain that she’s not married. It’s by far the best choice in most formal cases (or when you don’t know what specific title the woman goes by).

These examples will help you understand how to use “Ms.” in a sentence:

  • Dear Ms. Walters,
  • I hope you are doing well after your time away. We really miss you here.
  • All the best,
  • Susan
  • Dear Ms. White,
  • I’m going to need you to hand in your report by the end of the day today.
  • Please let me know if this is not possible,
  • Craig
  • Dear Ms. Aberdeen,
  • Thank you for your kind words while I was away.
  • My best regards,
  • Tom

When to Use “Miss”

“Miss” is generally used to refer to unmarried women. The title has also become a fairly popular choice to use synonymously with “Ms.” It now allows you to refer to both married or unmarried women when you don’t know which title is most appropriate.

It’s also fairly common to hear “Miss” used in spoken English. It’s an informal way of referring to a woman without assuming that she’s married. Similarly, you would use “sir” for a man in many spoken cases.

  • I’m sorry, miss! Could I please take up some of your time?
  • Wait, miss! You dropped this! I’m glad I caught you!
  • Here, miss. I helped you get these sorted, so you don’t have to worry anymore.

As you can see, “miss” is used in general when you’re referring to a woman.

It’s mainly used informally when you do not know the name of the woman. It’s also a good sign of respect when you are speaking to someone like a teacher (since most teachers are known as “Miss Surname”).

Check out these examples to see how to use “Miss” in a sentence:

  • Dear Miss Merriweather,
  • I’m not sure if I’ll be able to come along to the event later today.
  • I apologize for the inconvenience,
  • Sherry
  • Hey Miss,
  • I hope you’ve had a good spring break.
  • I’m looking forward to getting back to school,
  • Jeff
  • Miss Parker,
  • I have heard that you are struggling to keep up with the demand at the moment.
  • Let me know if there’s anything I can do,
  • All the best,
  • Maria

Which Is Used the Most?

According to Google Ngram Viewer, “Miss” is used the most. This makes sense, considering it applies to most contexts. You can use it to refer to women outside of a formal address (i.e. in spoken English, to refer to a stranger or a teacher).

mrs or ms or miss

“Miss” is also used as a verb. You can use “to miss” when someone longs for another person or when they do not hit a target. That’s why “miss” is the most popular overall choice.

“Mrs.” and “Ms.” are almost identical in popularity. “Mrs.” is slightly more popular, showing that it’s generally more acceptable to use “Mrs.” as soon as you know that the woman is married and appreciates the title.

“Ms.” used to be much more popular, but it seems to be losing popularity as time goes on. That most likely comes from “Miss” gaining popularity when used to refer to women who you don’t know the marital status of.

Other Ways to Address a Woman in a Formal Letter

There are a few other ways you can address a woman in formal writing. They are as follows:

  • Ma’am
  • Madam
  • Lady (if this title applies)
  • Dr.

Final Thoughts

“Ms.” and “Miss” are both great formal titles you can use when you don’t know if a woman is married. If you’re worried about addressing her incorrectly, you can’t go wrong with those two. You should only use “Mrs.” if you know for certain that the woman is married.