I am applying to a grad school in the US and I am asking application questions through emails. In one of the emails, I accidentally addressed the admissions director as Miss, even though the title of her choice is Ms., as shown in her signature. We've had a few email exchanges before where I had addressed her correctly as Ms., but I wrote this email under stress and in a hurry (it was a difficult subject and time sensitive) and made this title mistake.

Also English is not my first language. She looks young and I am not that familiar with US titles. I had a vague impression Miss is associated with relatively young people and only upon further checking did I realize Miss is used to address unmarried women.

How serious this mistake is? Is it sexist or rude?

I will pay attention and address her correctly in the future. Any other suggestions?

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    This question might be more suitable for English Language Learners. Sep 1, 2020 at 23:29
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    It's unlikely to be significant. However, you should know for the future that Miss is now considered completely obsolete in the US (and likely elsewhere), and generally should not be used for anyone unless they specifically request it. Sep 1, 2020 at 23:33
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    Hey Nate, I didn't know that. Thanks for the tip! Is Mrs also obsolete then?
    – Lucy
    Sep 1, 2020 at 23:39
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    @Lucy Yes, Mrs is also obsolete, particularly in professional contexts.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 1, 2020 at 23:50

2 Answers 2


I doubt it makes a big difference.

In general, the honorifics "Miss" and "Mrs." are considered obsolete in professional and academic settings, as marital status is not considered relevant (besides the sexist aspect that there has never been such a distinction in honorifics for men). They should not be used unless someone specifically requests them. "Mr." and "Ms." have been the standard gendered honorifics for some time, and "Mx." is coming into wider use as a gender-neutral alternative.

However, I think people realize that these distinctions may be missed by speakers unfamiliar with the language and culture, so I don't think serious offense is likely to be taken. If you like, you could write a very brief followup email saying something like "I'm sorry, in my previous email I meant to write 'Ms. X'".

(In general, also note that people who hold a faculty position or a doctoral degree are likely to prefer to be addressed as "Prof." or "Dr." respectively. When someone has both, there may be local customs preferring one or the other, but either should be acceptable. English does not use both titles together.)

  • That's very kind of your to explain and give suggestions, thank you. Also it's great to know about "Mx." It sounds pretty respectful for people we don't know their preference yet. That's really cool.
    – Lucy
    Sep 1, 2020 at 23:58

Assuming her title was not "Dr." (you said you checked, but just for future readers), Ms. vs Miss is not really offensive. I don't think anyone really knows what the difference is anymore. I bet you most Americans would say Ms. is short for Miss.

Mrs. technically means married but is also therefore associated with being old. So a young woman might be slightly peeved at being addressed as Mrs.

There is no difference here between academia and the rest of American culture.

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    Thank you so much. That's a great relief to know. I used to think Ms is short for Miss too. And many strangers addressed me as Miss, so I thought it's a pretty general term to address relatively young women.
    – Lucy
    Sep 1, 2020 at 23:50
  • @Lucy I pronounce "Ms." and "Miss" the same, usually Sep 1, 2020 at 23:51
  • @ Azor Oh I thought Ms is pronounced as "miz," and Miss as "mis." Hmmm so that's also interchangeable sometimes? Or are they both pronounced as "mis"?
    – Lucy
    Sep 2, 2020 at 0:03
  • @Lucy I pronounce them both both ways depending on context haha. Sep 2, 2020 at 0:41
  • Regarding "Dr.": would it be a huge issue ("offensive") to forego it in an American setting? In France the only people you would ever call "docteur" (doctor) are medical doctors. Calling a (non-medical) PhD "doctor" would be extremely formal (think invitation to the president's garden party, not college admission email).
    – UJM
    Sep 3, 2020 at 13:47

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