As their name suggests, honorifics are often used to honor the person who you’re speaking to. There are quite a few options in the English language. Honorifics include reverend, corporal, captain, doctor, professor and so on. But for most people, there are only a few honorifics: Mr., Miss, Ms. and Mrs. (or, outside of the United States, Mr, Miss, Ms and Mrs). Honorifics in other languages also come in wide varieties, but usually the most important ones to know are those that correspond to the basics in English.
To get you started, we’ve compiled a quick guide to how honorifics are used (or not used) across 13 different languages. There are usage differences even within these languages, but this should give you an overview of honorifics around the world.
How Honorifics Are Used
There are a lot of cultural norms that are tied up with honorifics, and those norms are shifting constantly. Today, regular honorifics seem to be falling out of use from English in a lot of places, though they’re far from gone entirely. While it’s probably safer to err on the side of using them, just know that the cultural expectation for honorifics can widely vary.
Another thing to note is that honorifics are very binary, and tied to older traditions. One of the most common complaints about them is how Mrs. and Miss — both shortenings of the word “mistress” — are used depending on whether a woman is married or not (men use Mr. regardless of their marital status). Because it’s impossible to tell if someone is married, Mrs. and Miss are often used based on how old a person looks, which is also not great. Because of this, many of the female honorifics in this article are synonyms for “young woman” or “old woman,” regardless of marital status.
People have devised ways around these in English. Ms., for example, has been around for over a century and is used by many people to get around the Miss-Mrs. binary. Somewhat newer is Mx., a gender-neutral honorific that has been gaining popularity over the past few decades. This is all to say, it’s important to pay attention to the honorifics a person uses. While it may be just a few letters, it’s connected to identity and respect.
Honorifics In Other Languages
There are two main honorifics in Dutch, which can be used before a person’s last name, as in [Honorific] [Last Name].
- Mr. — meneer
- Miss, Mrs. — mevrouw
An antiquated version of the word “miss” is juffrouw or mejuffrouw. The first of the two does still get used by young students addressing a female teacher, however.
French has three main honorifics. They appear before a person’s last name, so you’d say [Honorific] [Last Name].
- Mr. — monsieur (shortens to “M.”)
- Miss — mademoiselle (shortens to “Mlle”)
- Mrs. — madame (shortens to “Mme”)
While mademoiselle is technically equivalent to “Miss,” it’s becoming more common to use madame for all women, regardless of relationship status. The French government stopped using mademoiselle in official communications over 10 years ago; Canada and Switzerland abandoned it before that. You still might hear the term in some parts of the French-speaking world, however.
German has three main honorifics, which are used before a person’s surname so they can be addressed [Honorific] [Last Name].
- Mr. — Herr (shortens to “Hr.”)
- Miss — Fräulein (shortens to “Frl.”)
- Mrs. — Frau (shortens to “Fr.”)
Fräulein, for the most part, has fallen out of use in German, and is more likely to be heard when talking about a young girl than simply an unmarried one. You might also hear Herr paired with Dame, but Dame is more of a social title for women, like “lady” in English.
There are two main honorifics in Indonesian, which are paired with surnames, as in [Honorific] [Last Name].
- Mr. — Bapak (shortens to “Pak”)
- Miss, Mrs. — Ibu (shortens to “Bu”)
In addition to being honorifics, bapak and ibu mean “father” and “mother” respectively, and also are used as gendered forms of the second-person singular formal pronoun.
Italian has three primary honorifics. They can be used in conjunction with someone’s last name, so you’d address them [Honorific] [Last Name].
- Mr. — signor (shortens to “Sig.”)
- Miss — signorina (shortens to “Sig.na”)
- Mrs. — signora (shortens to “Sig.ra”)
Signorina is all-but-gone from some people’s vocabulary, especially younger people who prefer to group all women together with signora. By others, it’s used plenty. Overall, honorifics are less common in Italian than in English. Using signor or signora a lot may make you sound oddly formal.
There are two primary honorifics in Polish. In formal situations, you can use them in conjunction with a person’s last name to form [Honorific] [Last Name]. For someone you are more friendly with, you might use their first name, as in [Honorific] [First Name]. It’s also not uncommon to just use the honorifics on their own, without using someone’s first or last name at all (as you might use “sir” or “ma’am” in English).
- Mr. — pan
- Miss, Mrs. — pani
The word panna also might be used to refer to a young or unmarried woman, but it’s falling more and more out of use. To add a little more complexity, pan and pani are both also used as formal, singular “you” forms in Polish.
There are only two honorifics regularly used in Portuguese. They can be used before a person’s last name, so you’d address them [Honorific] [Last Name].
- Mr. — senhor (shortens to “Sr.”)
- Miss, Mrs. — senhora (shortens to “Sra.”)
There are Portuguese equivalents to “miss” to refer to a young or unmarried woman — senhorita in Brazilian Portuguese and menina in European Portuguese — but they can come across as condescending for many people.
Russian doesn’t really have honorifics that are comparable to Mr. or Mrs. Instead, a person might address someone with their first name and their patronymic in order to show them respect.
While Norwegian, Swedish and Danish have their differences, we’re grouping them together because they are fairly similar in their approach to honorifics: they’re rarely, if ever, used. If you do see them, they’re the same in all three languages, and can be put before someone’s surname as in [Honorific] [Last Name].
- Mr. — herr
- Miss, Mrs. — fru
You could also add in fröken for Swedish and frøken for Norwegian and Danish, all of which are dated versions of “Miss.” If you do hear them, it’s probably a young child addressing their teacher.
While honorifics seem to be on their way out of these languages, there was a time when they were in regular use. The Swedish language in particular used to have a very complicated system of formal address, which changed in the 1960s and ‘70s when a process called “du-reform” happened in Sweden. Nowadays, herr and fru are reserved for more formal conversations.
Spanish has three primary honorifics. They usually are used before a person’s last name, so you would say [Honorific] [Last Name].
- Mr. — señor (shortens to “Sr.”)
- Miss — señorita (shortens to “Srta.”)
- Mrs. — señora (shortens to “Sra.”)
Turkish has two primary honorifics. Unlike most of the ones on this list, they’re paired with a person’s first name and come after it, so you would address someone formally by saying [First Name] [Honorific].
- Mr. — Bey
- Miss, Mrs. — Hanım
There is also another layer of formality above that one, with two more honorifics. These ones are used before the surname, so in extremely formal situations you could use [Honorific] [Last Name].
- Mr. — Bay
- Miss, Mrs. — Bayan