I had read it somewhere but forgot the source. But do some women consider being called 'ma'am' offensive? I mean it's just 'madam' to 'ma'am' then why this fuss? Also, is it 'ma'm' or 'ma'am'? I see both.

Is it more polite if you pronounce 'd' in madam? Or 'ma'am' is more for the teachers in schools and only kids speak that way?

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    It is ma'am. The other spelling may be a rare alternative. I've never seen it before this question Also, it may not be used the same as ma'am.
    – user20792
    Commented Dec 13, 2015 at 2:37
  • ell.stackexchange.com/questions/24585/…
    – user127464
    Commented Jan 1, 2021 at 14:39

6 Answers 6


The use of "Ma'am" is a deferential show of respect for one's seniors.
For example here is an excerpt from an army handbook on military courtesies

All cadre and cadet officers are addressed as “SIR”/”MA’AM”. As a general rule, “Sir”/”Ma’am” is used in speaking either officially or socially to any senior. The word is repeated with each complete statement. “Yes” and “No” should always be accompanied with “Sir”/”Ma’am”.

Of course Ma'am can also be used sarcastically and the target of such uses may be offended. Also if it is used on someone who does not consider themselves to be senior to the user they might also be offended, but if it is clearly used out of respect for the other it is not likely to be ill-received.

Using Madam, at least in my book, is not as generally accepted as Ma'am. It has more of an elderly connotation.


There's lots of regional variation in usage of 'ma'am' and 'madam(e)'. Madame in particular might evoke images of a woman that runs a brothel, actually! (see the 'Other usage' section of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madam). Sometimes 'miss' is used with women, regardless of age, in the place where 'sir' would be used for men (e.g., to teachers, in Western Canada).

A lot of women feel old when they are called 'ma'am', and feel patronized when they are called 'girl.' There is an excellent article on the American perspective on 'ma'am' in this New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/weekinreview/29angier.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Ma%27am&st=cse

I was first called 'sir' by business owners, etc., at age 15 (somewhat jokingly, I'm sure). Unfortunately, there's no equivalent for women. There is always 'miss' -- however, at some point that becomes as patronizing for some women as 'girl.'

This is a repeat of the 'guy' problem, there being no female equivalent. The closest thing is 'gal'; however, 'gal' is odd or at least excessively 'flowery' in anything other than strong slang or in joking.

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    In my world, the female equivalent of "guy" is "guy". Except when it isn't. ("Some guy called" refers to a male. "You guys should come" doesn't specify gender.)
    – Martha
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 2:41

Question: If the use of the "ma'am or sir" gesture is an expression of someone's age, why has the military maintained its usage for all individuals above them in rank?

I am from South Carolina where "southern traditions" are extremely important to our culture. However, I have recently moved to Atlanta which is truly an international city within the South. Although the use of the word ma'am or sir is simply a sign of respect--not a jab at someone's age--I am careful not to offend. With that said, it's a gesture I was taught from a very young age so it's not something I can turn on-and-off rather easily. Still, I believe the majority of people recognize the genuineness of its use, especially upon hearing the deep accent that accompanies it.

So ladies, or gentlemen if you do take offense--consider the source next time.


If you are comfortable with calling someone Sir, then it should be OK to use Ma'am in similar circumstances when addressing a woman.

Pronouncing the 'd' runs the risk of suggesting that the person is a female brothel keeper. If you mean to say brothel keeper, you should say "Madam", or "the Madam". In all other circumstances, steer clear of the 'd'.

Visitors to Buckingham Palace are coached beforehand to address the Queen as "Mam", and told that it rhymes with "Pam". In British usage, this is probably about right. In American usage, (where they are generally keener on Sir and Ma'am than the British) you might hear a more drawn out vowel sound.

Bear in mind that good manners are not always about the correct use of language. If someone indicates that they would prefer to be addressed as "Muz", "Ma'am" might not be appropriate.


So a friend-a delightful Gram-so hip, so totally neat, had one of her grandsons being told by her Mom while he was on the phone with his Gram that he must call her Ma'm not Gram. This woman often makes up her own rules. I grew up in New Orleans-we would always call our grandmothers "Grandma." "Yes Grandma" if she asked you to do something - but "ma'm" was used after you were with her or on phone with her only after you honored by saying Gran or Grandma in the beginning of the conversations. It is an error not to single your special relative by her formal relationship with her.


It depends. Do you have a strong southern accent and would you call a female ma'am whether she is 16 or 60? In that case then there is nothing wrong with it. If you would only use it for females say over 21 / over 30 / older than you then there is no need to pass judgment on a woman's age and essentially tell her you did that. That is just hurtful. Hope that helped!

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