What does Mr. Mrs. and Ms. really mean?

I was searching on the internet this morning for a word on thesaurus.com and a link prompted me to read a document about the abbreviations Mr, Mrs and Ms. I thought I would take a short moment and share what I’ve learned with you.

First, in proper English, any title abbreviation which contains the first and last letter of the original word does not require a full stop. You’ll notice this in the UK if you see someone listed as Mr Thomas Jones or Dr John Smith. There is no period after the abbreviation because the the abbreviation contains the first and last letter of the original word. This goes for Ms as well, as it is short for Missu(though pronounced mizz)

Mister comes from the word Master which was reserved for the English Aristocracy, typically for someone who was below the rank of Knight. So their title was shortened to Mr. The same goes for Missus, or Ms. The odd duck out in this equation is Mrs.

Mrs (pronounced “missus”) is a bit different. It was literally a sign of ownership, which stands for Mister’s or in shortened form: Mr’s. The title of Mrs was generally reserved for a Mistress, or a female companion who belonged to the master. Originally, it was meant for someone who the Master was not officially married to, thus it is an owned title as she belonged to the Master.

So, what is the contemporary use of the titles? Here is your explanation:

  • Mr: Used as a polite way to address a male member of society.
  • Ms: Used as a polite way to address a female member of society, disregarding her marital status. Especially important to use if her social status is equal to or above that of her husband’s.
  • Miss: Used as a polite way to address an unwed female in society, typically reserved for ladies who are under the age of 18 years of age. If she is over 18, Ms should be used.
  • Mrs: Used as a polite way to address a married female member of society, but with a caveat: 
    • If she appears on her own accord, with her own social status, she should be addressed Mrs Jane Smith
    • If she appears with her husband, due to her husband’s social status, should be addressed as Mr and Mrs John Smith
    • If she appears without her husband, but under her husband’s social status, should be addressed as Mrs John Smith. This is generally reserved for a widow. If her husband is still alive, just not at the particular social function, then the first rule is typically used.

And now, you’ve learned something new today.