Mrs.? Ms.? Miss? Just Call Me Madame

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One of the hardest parts of French is getting the genders straight.  French nouns are either masculine or feminine.  There’s no logical way to discern whether the noun is masculine or feline, you just have to memorize it.   Adjectives change to agree with the gender and number of the nouns they modify.  This means that most of them have four forms!

Traditionally, when you saw the name of a profession, you would immediately know whether the professional referred to was a man or a woman from the form of the noun.  It’s comparable to using the term policeman or policewoman (instead of police officer) in English.  In Switzerland, French is changing to make professions more gender neutral by standardizing the names.   The poster above reads “the times change the language changes too.”   It’s not the only way the French language is changing in Switzerland.

As a newcomer, you don’t want to make a faux pas or embarrass yourself.   Knowing the correct way to address people is part of this.  It is made a little easier by the Swiss custom of not using Miss.  That way, you don’t have to find out someone’s marital status refer to them appropriately.  All women, regardless of their marital status, use Mrs.   It’s a sign of respect…just call me Madame.

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2 thoughts on “Mrs.? Ms.? Miss? Just Call Me Madame

  1. Yeah it’s really frustrating too when you think that the people that are born there just know which are masculine and which are feminine without having to think about it. It’s just intuitive to them. I remember reading about that in Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I took French for a few years and was the worst at word genders. And every day when I see my lady friend in the kitchen at work I still forget to call her Amiga instead of Amigo.

  2. That’s funny that you say as a nation you call all women Mrs to show respect, because that’s why we don’t use the title Mrs. in The USA. The use of the word suggests a women’s worth has something to do with her marital status, so calling all women Mrs just sounds like you are saying “it’s okay you aren’t married, we will respect you as if you are anyways.” That’s why in English we use the title Ms because it is very clear that we mean that marriage doesn’t matter just like Mr never had a marital status connotation.

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