Can we use the word "ma'am" for referring to "mother"? For example

Jim Bishop said to his mother, "Yes, ma'am, you sure would."

  • You can use it but whether it is used is a different question. It may be used by some families in the USA (you sometimes see it in films), but it isn't used in the UK.
    – Mick
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 4:02
  • It is a polite term of respect, now largely confined to southern and rural areas in the US.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 12:56

2 Answers 2


As far as I know, ma'am does not mean mother. It's a contraction of madam.

(often initial capital letter) a polite term of address to a woman, originally used only to a woman of rank or authority

You use ma'am or madam to address a woman politely. It is a sign of deference and it's similar to calling a man "sir". Ma'am and madam are formal, but madam is more formal than ma'am. Ma'am is used more often than madam in recent years. enter image description here


  1. Police officer: Do you know why I pulled you over?
    Driver: No sir.
  2. (To a customer) Yes, ma'am, how may I help you?
  3. Mother: Did you break the neighbor's window?
    Son: No ma'am, I didn't.
  4. I would like to ask for permission to take your daughter to the dance, sir.

Also, in a household where the parents demand or expect to be addressed in a respectful manner, ma'am and sir are appropriate terms (if not the only terms), at least in the US. Now how common such households are nowadays, I don't know. But I have a feeling these kinds of households where more common in the past, and probably more common in certain regions (again, in the US).

  • It's hard to go wrong using "sir" and "ma'am" when addressing older people (who you want to impress in some way), although many people may be surprised by this degree of politeness. Also, bit of trivia: the female owner/manager of a brothel is referred to as a "Madam", so you may see that usage from time to time.
    – Andrew
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 6:22
  • Another bit of trivia: The Queen in the UK is always addressed as ma'am (although it's pronounced to rhyme with ham), and it is entirely possible that Prince Charles and his brothers and sister are the only people in the UK who call their mother ma'am (although it is more likely to be mama).
    – Mick
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 8:30
  • @MickSharpe - Is there any other way to pronounce "ma'am"? Living here in the US, rhyming with ham is the only way I've ever heard it pronounced.
    – stangdon
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 17:37
  • @stangdon Good point. We pronounce ham differently on this side of the pond. When addressing a female officer, a British squaddie would call her "ma'am", pronounced like harm. When instructed in how to address the queen, they are told It's "ma'am" as in ham, not "ma'am" as in harm.
    – Mick
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 17:48
  • Of course @MickSharpe means a non-rhotic harm, with the vowel of father (homonymous with farther).
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 22:49

"Ma'am" is a sign of respect. Mothers are please when their child says, "Yes, ma'am," in response to something like, "I'd like you to put the dishes away when you're done with your homework."

Within the U.S., it is more common in the South than in the North.

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