I was wondering which one of these two sentences is more common:

1)Can I help you, sir?

2)Can I help you, mister?

I always thought that mister, actually the abbreviation form (Mr) is only used before family names like Mr. Smith, and it's not common to use mister in occasions like example (2) and we use sir alternatively; however, I came across an example in Longman Dictionary:

Thanks, mister.

Which sounds a little bit odd to me.

  • 2
    An anonymous "mister" without a name is more common in old movies. Presently, in the US, "sir" is more common - although a simple "May I help you?" with neither is more common than either, in my experience.
    – Davo
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 19:43
  • 1
    "Sir" is definitely the most common word standalone. However, with a name "Mr." isn't less common. Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 19:57
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    In the US South, "mister" is a casual thing between friends (similar to "bro" I suspect). When we run into a male friend sometimes we say "Hey, mister - what's going on?" It would not be used as a replacement for "sir". Actually, not that I think about it, "mister" is quite a complicated word informally because it can also be unfriendly. I'll give it some thought and see if I can't make a proper answer out of it.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 19:57
  • 2
    Mister is a bit like dude – if you want to be polite, say sir. Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 20:17
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    Today "Mister" by itself sounds a little too jocular or informal, and it could even be perceived as sarcastic. Use "Sir".
    – stangdon
    Commented Oct 3, 2017 at 11:12

1 Answer 1


You are correct that "Mr." is usually used with a last name. When used alone it can sound a little cocky or juvenile. In customer service, I have always been referred to as "Sir", except when my hair was longer.

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