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Names and titles: addressing people

from English Grammar Today

When we talk to someone directly, we use names and titles:

Hello, John, how are you?

Professor Sana, there’s someone to see you.

When we are talking about people, we use different forms depending on our relationship with them.

We use first names only in informal situations:


I saw Mel earlier today.


Did you? I haven’t seen her for weeks.

We use first name + family name (surname) when we are not sure if the person we are talking to knows who we’re talking about:

Do you know Simon Perry?

Joy Goodfellow had to go to hospital today. I’m not sure why.

We use a title (Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr, Prof) and the surname in more formal situations. We don’t usually use the title alone, or the title and first name (although we sometimes use a job title):

Dr O’Donnell, can I ask you a question?

Not: Dr David, can I ask …?

Could you ask Mrs Zatta to call me when she gets back?

Not: Could you ask Mrs to call me …?

We use Mr /ˈmɪstə(r)/ for men. We do not usually write ‘Mister’ in full. We use Mrs /ˈmɪsɪz/ for married women.

Ms /məz/ does not indicate if the person is married or not. Some women take on their husband’s surname and the title Mrs when they get married. Some women prefer to keep their surname and use the title Ms.

In formal contexts, we sometimes use Master for boys and Miss for girls. Miss also indicates single status (not married). The use of Miss is becoming less common among younger women, and Master now sounds old-fashioned.

Parents and grandparents

We use mother (usually formal), mum, mam, mummy (less formal) mom (American English) to talk to a mother, and father (usually formal), dad, daddy, papa (less formal) to address a father. For a grandmother we use gran, grandma, nana, nan, and for grandfather we use grandad, grandpa, granpy, gramps, pops:

Mum, you’re going to be really pleased to hear this.

I can borrow your car, can’t I, Gran?

Terms of endearment

We use terms of endearment for people we are very close to or to whom we want to show affection or friendship. They include: darling, dear, poppet (usually to a little child), love, luvvie, sweetheart. They may combine with names:

Can you lock the car, darling?

Peter, love, could you take this to the post-box for me?

Groups of people

We use folks, guys, everyone/everybody, children, boys, lads, girls, ladies, gentlemen to address groups. Some of these are more formal. For example, ladies and gentlemen is more formal than folks or guys. Guys is used more and more for groups of both sexes, not just males:

OK, boys, could you all wait in the main hall, please.

Everybody, could you all hand in your evaluations as you leave, please.

Come, on guys, come and help!

Very polite terms of address

We use sir or madam most often in places such as shops or hotels where a service is being given. We use sir and miss to address male and female school teachers (but not teachers in higher education):

[in a shop: a shop assistant is addressing a customer]

How can I help you, madam?

[in a school classroom: a pupil is addressing the teacher]

Sir, she keeps talking all the time.

Addressing strangers

English does not have a standard polite way of addressing strangers. For example, it is very difficult to know how to attract the attention of a stranger. Hello, sorry or excuse me are most likely to be used. Sir! Madam! are not commonly used:

Sorry, you’ve dropped your scarf.

Excuse me, are you a friend of Sheila’s?

Job titles

We don’t normally call people by the name of their job or profession. Some jobs or professions which we can use as terms of address are: doctor (medical), driver, nurse, minister, officer, waiter:

Do you think it’s serious, doctor?

Now, minister, can you explain this policy to us?

Excuse me, waiter, sorry, could I have some more bread, please?

We use Dr /ˈdɒktə(r)] for medical doctors and people with a doctorate qualification (PhD). We use a wide range of titles for jobs. Some common ones in business management are:

  1. Chief Executive Officer CEO /si: i:əʊ/

  2. Managing Director MD /em ˈdi:/

  3. Financial Director FD /ef di:/

  4. Chief Technical Officer CTO /si: ti: əʊ/

  5. Vice-President VP /vi: ˈpi:/ (especially in the USA)

  6. Chair/Chairperson/Chairman /ˈtʃeəmən/

We often use abbreviations:

Kapor was founder and CEO of Lotus.

(“Names and titles: addressing people” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press.)
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