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Say, Jeane is a 50 year old unmarried woman. And I insist on using titles. So, while talking about her with somebody else, shall I say, "This is Mrs. Jeane's house?" In writing, of course, we can use Ms. Jeane to avoid confusion, but how do we avoid this confusion while speaking, because both Mrs. and Ms. are pronounced the same, that is Missus, isn't it?

Even if she is married and I deliberately want to avoid allusions to her marital status in my speech, what title shall I use? (Miss is for young girls, right?)

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    In what part of the world? – choster Dec 30 '14 at 15:47
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    I've always pronounced "Ms." as a "mizz" sound, rather than "missus". – John Gibb Dec 30 '14 at 16:08
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This is an area of English where it's difficult to give a definitive answer - the situation has been changing over time, and the answer will vary a little in different regions and contexts. Some points:

Historically, 'Miss' would have been the correct answer - it was not merely for young girls, but for any unmarried female.

Since the advent of modern feminism (c. the sexual revolution in the 1960s-1970s), the attitude to titles indicating marital status has changed somewhat (but not universally - in a conservative area, the traditional view may prevail) and now you are 'safer' (from causing offense to feminists) to use 'Ms' as the default (for both single, married, separated, divorced, partnered, unpartnered etc. of any age). Although there may be regional variations, I believe the most widely accepted pronunciation for this is Miz. (corroborated by dictionary.com) Any regional variations would be over the vowel sound (eg Muz) - excluding Missus as a possible pronunciation. Some people find any use of a title to be patronising - it is often best to ascertain an individual's preference in how they wish to be addressed as manners can vary quite widely in this regard.

Further information: in using a title, you should be using either the surname or full name. eg. in referring to Jeane Smith the middle-aged spinster in conversation use either Miz Smith or Miz Jeane Smith - the latter more for explicit identification (first mention), the former when the context is clear. When addressing directly, Miz Smith (no given name), Ma'am or Madam depending on degree of formality or locality.

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    In the U.S. South, it is still common for people who are familiar but in socially subordinate positions to use titles with first names; for example, children when addressing adult family friends or staff when addressing a work supervisor; Miz Jeane, Miss Jeane, or Missus Jeane might all be heard, depending on her preference. – choster Dec 30 '14 at 15:53
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    Using "Ms" avoids offending feminists, but offends many traditionalists, and vice versa. Unfortunately, there is no safe route, other than knowing the preference of the audience. A short conservative diatribe: Liberals often say, "Liberals prefer X and conservatives prefer Y. So to avoid offending anyone, use X." Umm, no, sorry. – Jay Dec 31 '14 at 1:25
  • @Jay I have never heard anyone say that. But chances are anyone who does say it knows the irony of the statement and just wants to offend you. :p – Alexander Jan 8 '15 at 21:46
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    @alexander I didn't mean that they say it in so many words. I mean that that is their implication. Like the example here: They will say that "Miss" and "Mrs" are outdated and sexist, and they propose the new title "Ms" as satisfying the preferences of feminists, and that this should be the assumed, default title because it avoids offending feminists. But not everyone is a feminist, many people have objections to feminism for a variety of reasons, and so a word chosen specifically to appeal to feminists will by its nature offend non-feminists. Thus, saying "Ms is safe because it doesn't ... – Jay Jan 8 '15 at 21:51
  • ... offend feminists" explicitly disregards the opinions of non-feminists as less worth consideration than those of feminists. Similarly for many other social, religious, and political issues, but I'll avoid getting into any that are not related to language. – Jay Jan 8 '15 at 21:53
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The title "Ms." is perfect for this situation. It's pronounced "miz", which is similar to "Miss" except for the Z sound at the end.

It would be unusual to call someone "Ms. FirstName". I've heard of women being called "Miss FirstName", but it sounds like an archaic usage from the American South. "Mr." and "Mrs." are normally used with either a last name or a full name. If you're going to call someone by their first name, just use the name without a title.

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    Mr./Miss/Mrs./Ms. First Name is fairly common in the American Midwest as well, with the types of usage that choster lists in his comment. In the school where I teach, students generally address me as Mr. Patterson, but if I were one of the staff, they might address me as Mr. Jason. My children, for instance, call their teachers Mr/Mrs. Last Name, but the adults who run their after school program are all Mr./Mrs. First Name. – Jason Patterson Dec 30 '14 at 20:17
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Women who have prestigious titles (such as "Doctor" or "Senator") generally prefer one of those titles.

I only use the title "Ms." if I know that is the title the woman prefers.

The title "Ms." has connotations that range from neutral to severely negative. I would not risk implying "Ms."' connotation of "a woman who has given up on marriage" without being invited to do so.

"Mrs." is pronounced "Missiz".

"Ms." is pronounced "Mizz".

"Miss" is pronounced "Miss".

As Adam Haun points out, titles are generally used with last names for adults.

  • Why was this downvoted? It's a reasonable answer. The statement that "Ms" has "severely negative" connotations requires clarification -- it has severely negative connotations IN SOME CIRCLES -- but besides that I think this is an excellent answer. – Jay Dec 31 '14 at 1:27
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    Yeah - what are those negative connotations? – miltonaut Dec 31 '14 at 8:23

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