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The word "ma’am" is used when addressing a woman whose name you don’t know. It’s considered polite, however, some women don’t like it very much because it makes them feel old. On the other hand, some women do like it and appreciate it when it’s used.

If you do use this word, it’s often heard in response to yes-no questions. Consider a 50-year-old business woman who goes to a hotel and asks a bellhop (the person who helps guests with luggage) a few questions:

Woman: Can you help me with my luggage, please?

Bellhop: Yes, ma’am. I’ll be right there.

Woman: Does this hotel have a concierge?

Bellhop: No ma’am, but the staff at the front desk can help you.

Here are a few more examples:

  • Excuse me, ma’am. Would you like some more coffee?
  • I’m sorry I can’t help you ma’am.
  • Ma’am? Is this your purse?

woman and police officer Ma’am? Is this your purse?

Note: You can only use the word "ma’am with one person. There is no plural for this word. If addressing a large group of women, use the word "ladies." Do not use the word "lady" for one woman. It sounds strange:

  • I’m sorry I can’t help you lady. (No!)

Click here to go to the Word of the Day page.


First published on December 8, 2012.