When To Use Surnames And Titles

We use names and titles both when talking about people and when talking to them.

Talking about people

First name

To talk about our friends, relatives and children we use the first name. This is informal.

  • I saw John yesterday.
  • Where is Alice?
First name + surname

In a neutral style – neither formal nor informal – you can use first name + surname.

  • Mark Twain was an eminent writer.
  • Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, is a great philanthropist.
Title + surname

When we talk about people we do not know, we use title + surname. It is also a way of showing respect and being polite.

  • There is a Mr Hawkins on the phone.
  • Can I speak to Ms Sullivan, please?
Surname only

People use just the surname to talk about public figures like politicians, actors, writers etc.

  • Have you read the novels of Hemingway?

Talking to people

In an informal style, we call people by their first names.

  • Hi, Ann, how are you?

In a formal style you can use title + surname.

  • Good morning, Miss Sanders.

Note that we do not usually use both the first name and the surname of a person that we are talking to. It would be unusual to say ‘Hello, John Matthews’, for example.


1. Titles are not generally used alone.

  • Excuse me, could you move a bit? (NOT Excuse me, Mr or Excuse me, Ms)

2. Doctor is an exception to this rule.

  • Doctor, I have got a bad headache.

3. Employees often call their male employers Sir and female employers Madam. Students may also call their teachers Sir or Miss. In other situations British people do not normally use Sir or Madam when they talk to people. In American English, it is quite common to use Sir and Madam when addressing people.

4. Mrs is used to address a married woman and Miss to address an unmarried woman. You can use Ms to address a woman when you do not know whether she is married or not.

4. Two titles are not normally combined together.

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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