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Madam /ˈmædəm/, or, as French, madame /ˈmædəm/ or mə-dam',[1] is a polite form of address for women, often contracted to ma'am /ˈmæm/. The abbreviation is "Mme" and the plural is mesdames (abbreviated Mmes). The term was borrowed from the French madame (French pronunciation: ​[maˈdam]), which means "my lady".

Use as a form of address

In speaking, Madam is used in direct address when the lady's name is not known; for example: May I help you, madam? In the United States, "ma'am" is usually used,[citation needed] except in regions such as New England where particular ties to England still exist.[citation needed] Even then, "madam" tends to only be used when addressing the elderly, with "ma'am" being used for a younger woman.[citation needed] The male equivalent is "sir".

When addressing a letter to the holder of a particular position without knowing the name or gender of the addressee, it is common to write "Dear Sir or Madam,". When writing to a newspaper editor, the correct English usage is to omit the "Dear" and commence simply "Sir," or "Madam," etc.[citation needed]

Formal protocol

After addressing her as "Your Majesty" once, it is correct to address the Queen of the United Kingdom as "Ma'am" for the remainder of a conversation.[2]

In 2009 the European Parliament issued guidance on the use of gender-neutral language which discouraged the use of terms which indicate a woman's marital status.[3]

In the UK, the wife of a holder of a non-British hereditary knighthood such as the German, Austrian or German-Belgian Ritter, the Dutch-Belgian Ridder, the French-Belgian Chevalier and the Italian Cavaliere is called Madame. The English male equivalent is Chevalier.[citation needed]

In composed titles

Madam is also used as the equivalent of Mister (Mr) in composed titles, such as Madam Justice, Madam Speaker, Madam President. In the UK, job titles such as President or Prime Minister are not used as titles, as such. By the precedent set by Betty Boothroyd, a female Speaker of the House of Commons is Madam Speaker.[4]

However, the title Madam Justice is used in third-person reference: Madam Justice Louise Arbour, Madam Justice Arbour.[citation needed]

In the Supreme Court of the United States, the Supreme Court of Canada and the superior courts of Australia, rather than adopting the title Madam Justice for female justices, the title Mrs. Justice was replaced simply by Justice. Likewise, female presidents of the Republic of Ireland have preferred to be addressed simply as President in direct address, rather than Madam President, although Mr. President is in use in the U.S. with there being no claims of discrimination, possibly because there has not yet been a female President. In the United Kingdom, female judges of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales are titled Mrs. Justice rather than Madam Justice, regardless of marital status; however, female District Judges are referred to as either Madam or Ma'am.[citation needed] Female judges of the High Court of Hong Kong and the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong are, however, titled Madam Justice.

Military and police usage

"Ma'am" is commonly used to address female officers of the rank of Inspector and above in British police forces and female Commissioned Officers and Warrant Officers in the British Armed Forces.[citation needed] In the United States Armed Forces and the Canadian Forces, "ma'am" is used to address female commissioned officers and Warrant Officers.

Other usage

"Madam" often refers to an older woman who manages a brothel, escort service or some other form of prostitution for profit, that is, a procuress.

Usage in non-English speaking societies

In Singapore and Malaysia, some Chinese women retain their maiden name after marriage, and some choose to be addressed in English as "Madam" instead of "Mrs";[5][verification needed] for example, "Mme. Chiang Kai-shek" was used by Soong Mei-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek

In some Arab countries, especially Egypt and the Levant, "Madam", pronounced with a long second "a" as in the French, is used generally as a polite term for a married woman.


  2. "How to Address The Queen". Debrett's. Retrieved 12 May 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Gender-neutral Language in the European Parliament" (PDF). European Parliament. 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Betty Boothroyd Facts". YourDictionary.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Nedkov, Louisa (Summer 2002). "A Cultural Guide Singapore". CRA Magazine. Traditionally, Chinese wives retain their birth name. Marital status is indicated by using Madam or Mrs.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>