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SLC’s quick guide to using British honorifics

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An honorific is a word or title you apply to a person to denote respect. In English, the most used are Mr, Mrs, Miss and Ms.

We also have professional honorifics such as Dr and Rev. Then there are titles bestowed by the state, such as Baroness and Sir. And there are general words such as Sir (again), Madam and Miss.

Confused? Not surprising. But the important thing to learn for Medical English is when to use honorifics, and which ones you should use.

Firstly, for formal English that you’d use with a patient, remember to use title + surname. If you’re unsure of their title, use Mr for a man, and Ms for a woman. If you don’t know their surname, use Sir for a man, and Madam for a woman. Younger women are often called Miss.

Many people who have professional titles like to be addressed by them (perhaps you’re the same). If you forget, you’ll usually be reminded.

However, the UK has changed over the past few decades, becoming more informal. Younger people tend to be comfortable with more informal language, and prefer to be called by their first names. Generally, older people like being known by their correct title.

There’s no definite rule for this – but often, if your patient or client is older than you, they’ll expect more respect.

Still uncertain? Below is SLC’s quick guide to British honorifics, with their meaning.




Mr + surname

man (married / unmarried)

remember to use with surname, not first name

Ms + surname

woman (married / unmarried)

almost never used by the over 65s

Mrs + surname

married woman


Miss + surname

unmarried woman


Sir / Madam / Miss

man / older woman / younger woman

‘Miss’ is often used for women in their 20s



used for both women and men



A male or female member of the clergy

If you’d like more help in using formal Medical English, see how SLC can help you, along with advice on how to pass the OET.

Stephanie Lam
About the author

Stephanie Lam is a writer, journalist, and English teacher. She specialises in writing fabulous words for the wellbeing and health industries.

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