What's the Difference Between Miss, Ms., and Mrs.?

And which to write when addressing your wedding invitations.

Ms. vs Miss

PHOTO BY TONY WODARCK 

Whether you’re addressing someone in person or in a letter, titles are a symbol of respect. Men are always addressed as Mr., but it’s a bit more complicated for women. There are three different formal titles a woman can carry: Miss, Ms., and Mrs. Using the incorrect title for a woman can be considered rude or impolite, so if you want to avoid a serious social faux pas, it’s important to learn the differences between the three in order to use these prefixes properly.

We’ll explain everything you need to know about using formal titles, including which to write when addressing your wedding invitations.

Miss

Use the prefix Miss to address young unmarried women or girls under the age of 18. Technically, any unmarried woman can be referred to as Miss, but the title can feel a bit juvenile and immature when addressing women of a certain age, or women who’ve been divorced. It’s sticky situations like these that make Ms. the clear best choice, especially in a formal setting. For young girls under the age of 18, it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to them as Miss. If you even have to question it, go with Ms.

Ms.

Ms. is the proper way to describe any woman, regardless of marital status. It’s a catch-all, neutral term that came about in the 1950s as women began to assert their desire to become known for something outside of their marriage, and took hold in the 1970s with the women’s rights movement. Ms. is pronounced mizz like quiz, not miss like kiss. It’s considered the female equivalent of Mr. and can be used in any setting to refer to an adult woman. Married women are often referred to as Ms. in a business setting where marital status isn’t known or seen as pertinent, but it’s most often used to describe young women who aren’t married since Mrs. refers to married women and Miss relies heavily on age. If you’re not sure if a woman is married, it’s safe to go with Ms.

Mrs.

The prefix Mrs. is used to describe any married woman. In the present day, many women decide they want to keep their last name instead of taking their husband’s. These women are still referred to as Mrs. A widowed woman is also referred to as Mrs., out of respect for her deceased husband. Some divorced women still prefer to go by Mrs., though this varies based on age and personal preference. Traditionally, this title would accompany the husband’s title, first and last name (Mr. and Mrs. John Smith), although this practice is becoming increasingly less common. Use this title of respect to address married women, or when speaking to a woman of authority to show deference. 

Addressing Wedding Invitations

Addressing wedding invitations is just as important as the information on the invite itself. Your guests are important to you, which is why they’ve been chosen to be invited to participate in your special ceremony. Using what you now know regarding the differences between Miss, Ms. and Mrs., address the outer and inner envelopes with the proper title.

If a woman is married, use Mrs. If you’re inviting a couple, it’s up to you if you want to refer to the names of each after their respective titles (Mr. John and Mrs. Jane Smith), or simply use both titles along with the husband’s name (Mr. and Mrs. Smith). The latter is more formal, but be cautious if you’re not sure if the woman decided to keep her name. If you’re only inviting a woman, and she’s married, use Mrs.

When inviting an unmarried adult woman, or if you’re not sure if she’s married, use Ms. When addressing an invite to an unmarried couple, write the man’s name first, followed by the woman’s (Mr. John Smith and Ms. Jane Doe).

For young girls under the age of 18, use Miss, and have her name follow the name of her parents if also invited (Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, and Miss Janet).

If you’re unsure and you don’t want to offend someone by giving her the wrong title, it’s perfectly polite to ask their preference for titles before using them in correspondence or in introductions. These titles are, after all, a symbol of respect, and taking the time to consider a woman’s wishes on how they would like to be addressed is always thought of as courteous and a display of good manners. 

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