How to address people in English
Article rédigé par : Isabelle Godefroy le 2 mai 2013.
Non-native users of English may feel confused about how to address people properly. Figuring out what level of formality is appropriate is not always easy. Here are some helpful tips.
When you meet someone new, under social or business circumstances, it’s important to know how to address the individual standing in front of you. Properly addressing people in different situations shows you’re respectful of their position and mindful of not offending them in any way.
Here are 5 tips for properly addressing people in different situations:
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1. In doubt, keep it formal.
If you meet someone in a situation and you’re unsure of how to address him or her, just stick to formal address, either Sir or Madam. If the person you’re addressing feels this is too formal, they will let you know.
For example, you may say, « Nice to meet you, Sir! » The person may answer, « Please, call me Bill. »
2. Use Mr., Mrs., Miss, Ms. when you know their last name.
Unless told otherwise, and if you know their last name, use the person’s surname with their title when you meet them. In a business context, you will tend to use Ms. (Mizz) most of the time, when addressing a woman. Ms. is applicable to both married or unmarried women.
3. Use professional addresses when applicable.
Are you addressing a member of the medical or academic profession? If so, be aware of their title as relates to their profession. This is where the use of Dr. and Professor come in. These titles are used equally for men and women.
4. If you’re still not sure, ask.
Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask someone how he or she wishes to be addressed. Use formal address first, and then ask them if they prefer something else.
When you know their name, you can ask this : « May I call you Jane? » or more casually, « Is it okay if I call you Rachel? » They will either say yes, or tell you what they prefer.
5. When corresponding in writing, be formal…at first!
When you are writing to someone for the first time, use a formal address: Mr or Ms + the person’s last name if you know it. If you can’t find the last name, use a generic title such as Sir or Madam.
The respondent may address you by your first name and sign off with their first name. In today’s business world, the following correspondence is usually more casual. If you write back a second time you can use the respondent’s letter as a guideline. If they address you by your first name and sign off with their first name, you can do the same.