Madam (/ˈmædəm/), or madame (/ˈmædəm/ or /məˈdɑːm/),[1] is a polite and formal form of address for women, often contracted to ma'am (pronounced /ˈmæm/ in American English and /ˈmɑːm/ in British English). The term derives from the French madame (French pronunciation: [maˈdam]); in French, ma dame literally means "my lady". In French, the abbreviation is "Mme" or "Mme" and the plural is mesdames (abbreviated "Mmes" or "Mmes").

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? The male equivalent is "sir".

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] (to rhyme with "jam" or "ham").[3][4]

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.[5]

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.

In France, under the Ancien Régime, the wife of the younger brother of the King was known as Madame. A famous example is Henrietta Anne of England, daughter of Charles I. She was married to Philippe, Duke of Orleans who was the brother of Louis XIV of France.

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.[6]

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

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. 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. 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. 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 a British woman, usually older, who manages a brothel, escort service or some other form of prostitution for profit, that is, a procuress.

Usage in non-native English speaking societies

In Southeast Asia, most women who choose to continue using their maiden name after marriage are usually addressed in English as "Madam" instead of "Mrs". "Madam" will normally be used followed by the woman's own surname, while "Mrs" may be used followed by her husband surname.[7] [8]

"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.


  1. "Madame - definition of Madame in English - Oxford Dictionaries". Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  2. "How to Address The Queen". Debrett's. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
  3. "Greeting a Member of The Royal Family". Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  4. "Addressing the Royal Family". Debretts. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  5. "Gender-neutral Language in the European Parliament" (PDF). European Parliament. 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  6. "Betty Boothroyd Facts". YourDictionary.
  7. 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.
  8. Amin, Fadzilah (2 June 2011). "Madam, Teacher or Cikgu?". Archived from the original on 19 December 2017. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
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