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As I guess, the word 'sir' is to call a man whose position is higher or whose age is older. For example like school principal (and I am a student of the school). And one day when I was watching a movie, I heard the actress playing a station employee called a man who was buying a ticket 'sir'. So I think 'sir' is also used to call a stranger.

But what I wonder is, I am learning English and there is a male teacher. And I learned that I can just call teacher his/her name. So I am kind of confused because when to use the word 'sir'. I'd like to know appropriate situations to use that word. Only relationships between teacher-student / clerk-costomer / superior - subordinate?

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It depends on the society you live in. As I recall, one of my clients from the US insisted that I should call him by name and not Sir. In India, almost everyone who's superior/elder to you is sir! If you don't call them sir, it's a problem!

The best thing is let that person suggest/advise you (which happens in most of the cases as it happened in my case -they themselves tell us) and you carry that on.

To be on safer side, I'd start calling him 'sir', and if he's okay, I'll carry that on. Because in the other way round, it may sound 'impolite' to those who want others to call them 'sir!'.


My answer talks about general practices in India. However, I firmly believe that in a teacher-student relationship, sir suits the best. Students call teachers 'sir, teacher, master' etc. but I haven't yet come across any student calling his teacher by name. And it is the same in case of a relationship of a salesperson/clerk to a customer.

In offices, it depends on the person being called.

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  • Servers, servants, and serfs are expected to address their masters with sir, which is why it is so common in the service industry or when talking to a police officer.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 11:57
  • @tchrist that's right! But again, it depends on the 'person' whom you are talking to. For instance, I don't like being called 'sir' by anyone. Recently, a salesperson (from a bank) and I had several meetings (for loan approval). On the very first meeting, when he addressed me with that honorific, I politely suggested him to call me just Maulik! And, he followed.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Sep 22, 2015 at 12:02
  • In the Southern US, it's common to call folks sir or ma'am regardless of status. I might say "Excuse me sir. Could you tell me..." to a stranger or say "Thank you ma'am!" to a coworker that did me a favor. It is more of a polite form of address than an honorific in my region.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 16:08
  • Worth noting that mam might be consider as offence by some. @colleenv
    – Maulik V
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 16:16
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    Ma'am isn't offensive at all in my region, although the full madam does have some negative nuances depending on context.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 16:19

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