I know when you address a group of people, you may use "Ladies and Gentlemen". But if you need to address a woman that you don't know her name, is it OK to address her "Lady"?

For example, can I say "Lady, is this seat taken?"

Thanks in advance.

  • 1
    Usually, Madam (UK, except for the Queen who is Ma'am) and Ma'am in the US. However, in general, Ma''am is not as much used as before except in the southern US. Though some places still use it when there is a very unequal social relationship. A hotel might tell its porters to say Ma'am, for example.
    – Lambie
    Dec 12, 2017 at 23:22
  • 1
    When I hear "lady" used as a form of address in the singular, it's usually in a rather rude context (such as, "Hey, lady! Get your car out of the way! What's the matter with you?").
    – J.R.
    Dec 13, 2017 at 1:34
  • 1
    @Lambie When addressing the queen, it's "Mam, as in ham; not Ma'am, as in harm."
    – Mick
    Dec 13, 2017 at 1:55
  • Related: How can we refer to women we don't know
    – ColleenV
    Dec 13, 2017 at 2:57
  • 1
    @Lambie Who cares? Are you living in the middle ages? If you have the misfortune of having to speak to one of those pieces of crap just address them like you would anyone else.
    – Cloud
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:53

2 Answers 2


No, that sounds at best odd, and at worst sarcastic and rude.

In general there is no need for a term of address. You can say

Excuse me. Is this seat taken?

In some situations, when the speaker is being humble, you can use "Ma'am" as a female alternative to "Sir". But this is generally not needed, and learners are unlikely to find themselves in situations where they would be expected to use "sir" or "ma'am", unless they are at certain schools.


As others have pointed out, "lady" by itself is generally considered rude or sarcastic.

Hey lady, would ya mind getting your kid off of my head?

An exception is when "Lady" is part of the person's actual name, as with certain courtesy titles in the UK.

The young gentleman asked if Lady Diana will be joining the family for dinner?

It can also be very proper (and deferential) to use "the lady" to address or refer to someone in the third person.

Would the lady care for a cocktail?

Please show the lady and the gentlemen to their table?

  • It's interesting how this one word can be used to show contempt or respect, depending on tone and context.
    – J.R.
    Dec 13, 2017 at 10:08

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