If you have ever written a formal letter, an email, or just addressed someone important, you have probably addressed them with the formal prefix mister or misses (most commonly abbreviated Mr. or Mrs.). This term is also known as an honorific and has become a commonly used prefix in professional, academic, and formal communication now for centuries. However, even though it is so common in the English language, many people do not actually know its origin, its proper spelling, or how to pluralize it correctly. In this article, let’s explore the proper use of the prefix “Mr.,” our word of the day, and how to pluralize it, look for its synonyms, and learn its context.
Is it Correct to Say Mr. First Name?
The short answer to this question is yes, it is, in fact, correct to say (or write), Mr. “Firstname,” but only in certain contexts. Usually, the prefix is used to address someone formally, so in some cases, using a formal prefix before an informal use of someone’s first name can be somewhat confusing or incorrect.
However, it is acceptable in some contexts. For example, people in generational gaps sometimes refer to people by the first name but still use the formal or respectful prefix as a sign of deference. Referring to someone as “Mr. David” or “Mr. Zachary” can also be a colloquialism, a local phrase used in specific localities or contexts, especially in the American south.
In modern English (both American English and British English), mister is a term of respect afforded to someone who you do not know on an individual level, or someone you do not wish to refer to by their first name. Most commonly, whether spoken or written, the correct way to refer to multiple men is by using the word “sirs”; however, the word Mr. is also used on occasion.
So most typically, the prefix Mr. is used with someone’s last name (e.g. Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, etc.), but it can be used in front of someone’s first name. Just make sure you know your context and your audience before you do so.
The Correct Plural Form of Mr.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines Mr./Mister as “sir;” used without a name as a generalized term of the direct address of a man who is a stranger; used sometimes in writing instead of Mr.”
Technically, the correct plural of the abbreviated form “Mr.” is “Messrs.”(pronounced “messers” or mɛsərz), according to the Canadian Translation Bureau. Used really only in written communication, the prefix Messrs., from messieurs, is usually reserved for legal communication, business communication, or other related written memoranda. The definition of Messrs is simply more than one Mr. If you are using the plural in spoken communication, you would use the word “misters” in place of “mister” as the correct plural of Mr. At the end of the day, using the abbreviated prefix is only used in written communication, so make sure you are aware of your communication medium before you decide on something.
The History and Origin of the Word
Much of the reason that the usage of the word mister (and its abbreviation, “Mr.”) is so complicated is due to the length of time that it has been in use in common English. According to EtymOnline.com, the word mister has been in use since the mid-fifteenth century. The grammar of the word has been changed in such a way that it lends itself to error, and over time, even its application has changed. The root of the word may have a basis in the French messieurs. For example, it was originally used to preclude someone’s “Christian name,” the term used in England for someone’s birth or given first name. It then was changed to become a form of address for someone whose name was unknown in passing (e.g. “hey mister”), and finally, the disappearance of the word “master”, reserved for either young unmarried men or slave owners, depending on the context, led to the use of mister as just a common respectful prefix for someone’s legal name.
According to the EtymOnline source, a dictionary in 1895 stated that “Sir and madam or ma’am as direct terms of address are old-fashioned and obsolescent in ordinary speech, and mister and lady in this use are confined almost entirely to the lower classes.” This is no longer the correct context for this word, however, and it is now usually used as a term of respect in personal, formal address.
Unlike many words in English, the etymology of this word seems to be entirely internal, rather than deriving from another language like Latin, although it may have some basis in the French.
Examples of the Word in Context
The best way to understand how to use a word properly is to explore its context. Reading or hearing the word being used in the right way will solidify its usage in your mind. Here are some examples:
- “Did you CC Mr. Miller on that email?”
- “Mr. Jefferson was one of the primary authors of the Declaration of Independence, but he was assisted by Messrs. Franklin, Adams, Sherman, and Livingston.”
- “Did Mr. Halpert make it to his very important afternoon appointment today, or did he end up having to reschedule that?”
While these are just examples, they should demonstrate the most common uses. English speakers primarily reserve the “mister” title for either someone they do not personally know, or someone they are addressing with respect in a formal setting. This can be compared to the formal and informal verb cases in Spanish, which follow the forms tú, which is informal, and usted, which is formal. The difference is subtle but can be used to communicate respect or familiarity, depending on which one is chosen.
Synonyms for Mr
There really are no synonyms for Mister/Mr., unless you are going to refer to someone with very informal language such as “dude”, or “buddy.” The titles Mr and Messrs are considered the correct formal prefixes in English currently.
That being said, there are some other words with plurals like Mister’s, including mesdames as the plural for madame, Mmes. for Mrs., and Mses. or Mss. for Ms.
At the end of the day, the way that you address either one man or multiple men depends entirely on context, the environment, and how well you know the individual or group you are addressing. Hopefully, this article leaves you feeling more prepared for any encounter!