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FORM OF ADDRESS Any WORD, such as a NAME, title, or PRONOUN, that designates someone who is being addressed in speech or writing. Such forms of address may be built into the grammar of a language used (as with the FRENCH pronouns vous and tu), or may evolve as a range of titles, names, kinship terms, terms of endearment, and nicknames, all usually with an initial capital in English.


Some languages, such as JAPANESE, have elaborate systems of pronouns to mark the relationship between addresser and addressee. Some European languages have systems in which one pronoun (French vous, SPANISH Usted) is used politely and formally among equals or by inferiors to superiors, and another (French tu, Spanish tu), used informally and intimately among equals or by superiors to inferiors. In French, the verbs tutoyer (to call tu; to be on familiar terms with) and vousvoyer (to call vous; to be on formal terms with) derive from and refer to this system. GENERAL ENGLISH once used pronouns in this way: in Shakespeare's Tempest, Prospero addresses his daughter Miranda with the intimate th-forms (thou, thee, thy, thine) and she addresses him with the respectful y-forms (ye, you, your, yours).

A continuum of usage

In addressing people, the two categories ‘intimates/children/social inferiors’ and ‘acquaintances/elders/social superiors, etc.’ are the poles of a continuum. At the intimately personal end, actual names may not be used at all; forms of address tend instead to be terms of endearment (baby, darling, honey) or expressions of derision (dickhead, idiot, stupid), usually hostile and dismissive, but sometimes affectionate. At the impersonal end, such forms of address as sir and titles (bare or with surname) may be used: Excuse me, sir/Sir; Doctor (Kildare), do you have a moment, please?; Follow your orders, Captain (Bligh). All the forms of address discussed below occur at various points on this continuum.

Names and titles

With the loss of its th-forms as living pronouns (except in North of England and Northern Isles dialect) and the extension of the y-forms to all uses, English has come to rely primarily on forms of address to convey nuances of relationship. The broad rule for forms of address is that those who are intimates address each other with given names such as George and Sue (and are ‘on first-name terms’), whereas those who are acquaintances use a title and family name such as Mr Jones, Mrs/Ms/Miss Smith (and are ‘on last-name terms’). Strangers in more or less formal situations use titles only (Sir, Madam). This rule has, however, many refinements and exceptions. In Britain, in the public (that is, private) schools, socially prestigious clubs, the armed services, and other groups, it has been common for males to address each other by surname alone (Good to see you, Brown!, or, affectionately, Brown, my dear chap, it's good to see you!), but this practice appears to be on the wane. In casual situations, men of all classes and backgrounds may employ strong, even taboo expressions affectionately, with you as in Come on, you old rascal/bugger, have another drink.

Use of someone's given name (such as Elizabeth) when the person is commonly addressed by a diminutive (Bess) often signals formality, and, especially with a child, the possibility of a scolding. Between the unadorned given name and a title with a family name, a number of other uses are intermediate in formality but also restricted to certain groups. In the American South, the title Miz is spoken with a woman's first name as a respectful, but semi-familiar, form of address. The mother of US President Jimmy Carter, a Georgian, was affectionately called Miz Lilian by many journalists, and the matriarch of the 1980s television soap opera Dallas, set in Texas, is Miz Ellie (Ewing).

Kinship usage

Within families, kinship terms are often used: (1) Formally, Father, Grandfather, Grandmother, Mother. (2) Very formally, especially in the British upper classes, especially in the 19c, Mama, Papa (stress on second syllable) or the Latin Mater, Pater (with English pronunciations, ‘may-ter, pay-ter’). (3) Informally, with variations according to region and class, Da/Dad/Daddy, Ma/Mam/Mom/Momma/Mum/Mammy/Mommy/Mummy, Pa/Pop/Poppa. Father, mother, brother, sister have been extended beyond the family for religious purposes and to express fellowship. Within the family, especially in AmE, Sister has the short form Sis, Brother the occasional Bro, bud(dy) (extended into familiar use, mainly between men), and brer.


Used on an often close informal level, nicknames may be diminutives of given names that are relatively stable over years, or may be temporary monickers bestowed, changed, and dropped as the bearer moves from one group to another. Nicknames may be neutral (Bill, Joanie), admiring (Refrigerator, for a heavily built American football player), or stigmatizing (Stinky), and show a more intimate or immediate and often emotive relationship between addresser and addressee than if the bearer's ordinary name is used.

Titles with last names

At a markedly more formal and respectful level is the use of a title with the last name. The traditional set of such titles includes Mr/Mr. for men, Mrs/Mrs. for married women, Miss for girls and unmarried women, and Master for boys. The full form Mister (a variant of Master) is currently almost never used with the last name, but is a term of address to a stranger (Mister, can you help me?), usually considered a ‘low’ equivalent of sir (Excuse me, sir, can you help me?). Its short form in BrE is either Mr or more traditionally Mr.; in AmE, it is usually the latter. The conventions for Mrs/Mrs. are the same. Both Mrs/Mrs. and Miss are abbreviations of Mistress, a form once common (compare Shakespeare's Mistress Quickly, in Henry V), surviving into the late 20c in parts of Scotland, Northern England, and Ireland, and in the West Indies. The forms of address for married and unmarried women have been subjected to reassessment in recent years, especially by feminists, who have objected to the use of titles which announce a woman's marital status but not a man's. As an alternative, the form Ms (pronounced ‘miz’ like the Southern US form, but otherwise unrelated to it) has been adopted in recent years, first in the US, then elsewhere.

Professional titles

Certain professional titles may replace those just mentioned. In Britain, the academic title Professor (abbreviation Prof.) is restricted to holders of a professorial chair, while in North America generally any holder of a professorial rank (assistant, associate, or full professor) can use it. Consequently, most university-level teachers in the US and Canada are addressed and referred to as professors, while few in Britain and the Commonwealth are so addressed. In the military, titles for ranks are regularly used as forms of address: Captain Bligh, some of the men would like to see you. Similarly, titles for the clergy may be used in addressing them: Father Brown, here is a mystery for you; Sister Bernadette, have you seen anything interesting lately? In American law, judges are addressed as Judge Bean and lawyers as Counsellor, without surname (Excuse me, Counsellor, but …). In other branches of the US government, presidents, vice-presidents, senators, representatives (members of the House of Representatives, also called congressmen/women), governors, mayors, and assorted other office-holders are routinely addressed by their titles and surnames: Senator/Mayor Smith, will you be running for office again?

Royalty and nobility

In Britain, royal and noble titles have been in use since the Middle Ages, often involving complex conventions of address and precedence. A monarch is referred to as, for example, King Edward or Queen Mary, but is directly, formally, and traditionally addressed as Your Majesty (formerly also Your Grace); other royals are traditionally addressed as Your Royal Highness. At the present time, Queen Elizabeth and other royal ladies are addressed as Ma'am, male members of the royal household as Sir, without name. Members of the royal family are referred to as His/Her Royal Highness, often abbreviated to H.R.H., especially in palace circles, without name (H.R.H. would like …). A lord is addressed either without name as your lordship (now restricted to use only by tradesmen or servants) or, in the case especially of a life peer in the House of Lords, as for example Lord Bland. The younger sons of dukes and marquesses are addressed as, for example, Lord Henry, distinguishing them by first name from relations with the same surname (Lord Henry Barringby from Lord William Barringby). A knight is addressed as, for example, Sir Henry (Sherlock). The wives of both lords and knights are addressed and referred to as Lady Bland (matching Lord Bland), and Lady Sherlock (matching Sir Henry Sherlock). The daughters of dukes, marquesses, and earls are addressed as Lady Jane (matching Lord Henry). When the highly formal Your Majesty/Excellency/Holiness/Eminence, etc., are used, the style is usually oblique: Would Your Majesty care to honour us with a few words?

Bare titles

Use of a title without any name spans the continuum of familiarity and respect, but is the only possibility between strangers. The titles normally so used are Sir, Madam/Ma'am, which tend, however, to be restricted to use in more up-market shops, restaurants, and hotels, and as salutations in business correspondence. In response, customers might use Miss to a (younger) woman waiting on them; there is no corresponding standard term for a male, the erstwhile use of boy in such circumstances in the US and parts of Africa and Asia being no longer generally acceptable. Certain occupational terms may be used without a name: What do you recommend, Doctor? Nurse, could you get me an aspirin?; Yes, Sergeant; Father, bless me for I have sinned; It's so good of you to come, Vicar; Preacher, you had them in the aisles this Sunday.

Informally, especially among working-class (BrE), blue-collar (AmE) groups, casual forms of address are common: (1) Male to male, bud(dy) in the US (especially to a stranger); mac in Scotland and parts of North America (to an equal, especially a stranger so perceived); mate in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand (to an equal, including a stranger so perceived); pal in North America and Scotland (to an equal, especially a stranger so perceived). (2) Female and male to female, hen (in Scotland, especially in Glasgow); honey (especially in North America, including to strangers), and its variant hinny in the North of England; love (especially in England, including to a male and a stranger, virtually regardless of social position).

Between strangers who are social equals, there are no polite forms of address in general use. Certain forms are used in limited circumstances, such as Ladies and gentlemen, the traditional opening of a formal speech, with less formal variants such as Dearly beloved (by clergymen), Friends, or such a formula as My fellow citizens/Rotarians. Sir and Madam (especially BrE) and Ma'am (especially AmE) are widely used as titles of respect, even for acquaintances, particularly those of more advanced years than the speaker, including in some traditional groups by children to any adult. In formal circumstances, in corresponding or with an audience, there are set forms for addressing royalty, titled persons, government office-holders, clergy, and others whose rank or function is deemed more important than their persons. The rules governing such forms of address are provided in guides to etiquette.