Dear madams (greeting)

Avanpost

Member
Russian
Hello!

I often use such an expression as dear madam (dear madams -- when there are several women) when I talk to women I don't know; but I have learnt recently that it may be offended for them. Did I use to do anything offending?
 
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  • heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It's standard to address letters 'Dear Madam(s)', but nowadays, to address women this way in speaking would be considered as rather dated at best, and patronising at worst. I wouldn't recommend doing it.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    No, I wouldn't write madams. I might half consider mesdames (like Mr and Messrs), but it still sounds a little pretentious to me. Try dear ladies ​instead.
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm confused now. Are we talking about addressing a letter, or talking to women we don't know? Either way, to me 'dear ladies' sounds even more patronising than dear madams.
     

    Franco-filly

    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    [When spoken] I would not find "ladies" offensive but "Dear" can be rather patronising! I agree with natkretep and would use "Dear mesdames" in a formal letter, certainly not "Dear ladies."
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I'm confused now. Are we talking about addressing a letter, or talking to women we don't know? Either way, to me 'dear ladies' sounds even more patronising than dear madams.
    Agreed. Not for letters. I was imagining speech:
    I often use such an expression as dear madam (dear madams -- when there are several women) when I talk to women I don't know ...
    (my emphasis)
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In Yes Prime Minister last night, Sir Humphrey often addressed a minister he particularly disliked as 'Dear Lady' in an over-polite, but extremely insincere and patronising (and very funny!) way.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    To me Dear Madams sounds like an address to two brothel-keepers.

    It seems likely that you know the names of the ladies in question, so the ideal way is to write is Dear Mrs Smith, Dear Ms Jones. This is recommended in all cases; write Dear Mr Patel, Dear Dr McIntosh, etc. rather than Dear Sir, every time.

    However, if you're speaking to them, there's no need at all to say dear - that's reserved for letters. Say "Ladies, how nice to see you!" or "Ladies, thank you for inviting me to your meeting" or whatever.
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Over here, many women don't really like to be addressed as "ladies". A great deal depends on the women to whom you're writing. As Mr Bradford suggests, the best course is to use their names.

    A further thought: If the women are both/all members of a group or profession, or part of your neighborhood, etc., you could avoid the problem by not making any allusion to their gender and instead say, for example: "Dear Neighbors", or "Dear Teachers", or "Dear Fellow Artists", or . . .
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Over here, many women don't really like to be addressed as "ladies".
    Over here, too: I would bristle if I was part of a group addressed as "Ladies".

    More generally, I wouldn't use "Dear" anything when speaking to people:).
     

    Avanpost

    Member
    Russian
    Thank you all for your answers; however I never understood how I should address to a group of women in speaking and when writing. I'm interested both in formal and semi-formal styles. I need to know it very much :)
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'd suggest greeting a group of women (or indeed anyone), when speaking, with a simple 'Hello' or 'Good morning/afternoon'. There's no need to add 'Ladies' or 'Madames' or anything. And certainly not 'Dear . . . '.

    And in writing, I'd suggest addressing it to one of the women whose postal address you presumably know. Dear Mrs/Ms . . . '. She will understand that it is intended for her group from the contents of the letter.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Over here, too: I would bristle if I was part of a group addressed as "Ladies"...
    That's a personal opinion, of course, and I'm not really sure what the justification is. I certainly wouldn't bristle if I was in an all-male group addressed as "Gentlemen...", and nobody would take offence at being addressed as "Ladies and gentlemen..." would they?

    Maybe it's a matter of age or social class rather than sex?
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    At some level, everything is a personal preference. However, the aversion to being addressed as 'Ladies' is fairly widespread, and it would be good idea not to risk annoying some part of your audience.

    As for the difference from addressing men as 'Gentlemen': the reason is historical. Ladies were treated differently from gentlemen when those words were current.
     

    dasubergeek

    Senior Member
    English - US; French - CH
    I've sat here for several minutes trying to figure out what I would say, and I cannot figure it out. "Ladies" could be used in certain situations, like in restaurants ("Ladies, your table is ready. If you'll follow me, please?") but certainly not in a letter. "Dear Ladies" in a letter sounds like an eight-year-old writing to her father's mistresses.

    If you absolutely can't get around it, use Mesdames or Madams as you said. It just sounds... awkward.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    If you absolutely can't get around it, use Mesdames or Madams as you said. It just sounds... awkward.
    Ouf, dasubergeek, I really can't imagine a situation in which "Madams" or "Mesdames" would sound anything other than strange - or comical:D.

    I still think heypresto's [post 14] advice is very sound!:)
     

    Avanpost

    Member
    Russian
    There is something to think out, as we say :)

    And how should I address to a group of women if they are standing in an office hall, and I need to go to them and say something like, '(Ladies?), Please, listen to me, it's about our further itinerary' (we have already greeted, so I don't need to say 'Good morning' once again)?

    In the Russian language we have such a word as 'дама' (it came from a French word 'dame'). And there is nothing offending if we address women like this, 'Dear dames.'

    However, a word 'dear', namely the place where this word must stay, in the Russian language has tho meanings: formal one and informal one (but not casual one)

    The formal meaning is 'respected', 'respectable'.

    And the second -- informal -- meaning of a word 'dear' is something like 'charming', which isn't also offending word. Allthough it doesn't fit formal style, in a friendly way it's OK, 'Charming dames' :)
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    I don't quite get the prejudice against using "Dear" in a salutation in a letter. It is highly conventional, after all, and for that matter, it's still in common use because I get both letters and emails addressed that way.

    As for "madam," I really don't think you can use that any more. You can still (at least in AmE) use "ma'am," but only in very formal letters and only when you don't know the person's name. But note both of those conditions: (1) very formal and (2) don't know the person's name. If both of those conditions aren't met, you shouldn't use it. If you know her name, use her name. If there are two of them, use both of their names with titles. The same is true for "sir" - use it only when the letter is (1) very formal and (2) you don't know the person's name. If you know his name, use his name and title. If there are two of them, use both of their names and titles.

    And as an aside, if you know enough to know the person's sex, you must know the person's name. So use it. It's that simple. If you don't know the person's name or sex, you can certainly use the formal equivalents, but you need to use both: "Dear sir or ma'am."

    As for the plurals, the only actual plural of the title "madam" (as opposed to the job description "madam" ;) ) is indeed "mesdames," but it sounds unbelievably goofy to my ear - flowery, overblown and ridiculous. This isn't fair because "sirs" doesn't have the same effect, but there it is. And there really isn't a plural of "ma'am," not that I've ever heard, anyway.

    So there is no workable plural of "madam" or "ma'am." It's awkward and inconvenient, but that's just the way it is.

    There are several reasons "ladies," doesn't work that well. It does work OK with "ladies and gentlemen," but not very well on its own. One reason is that it is really a social word, as opposed to a business word. That's why it sounds so patronizing in constructions such as "lady doctor" or even "saleslady" ("saleswoman" is much better). It sounds as though you're pretending this business relationship is social in some way, and that's just not a good idea. Historically, "gentlemen" might be involved in the business world, but "ladies" were not, and that's why "ladies" retains a strong social, non-business flavor that "gentlemen" or "sirs" does not.

    If you need to greet a group of women as you come into the office, for example, just say "Good morning!" without adding anything else. If you're writing to a group of women (an unlikely contingency, but not impossible, I guess), I would suggest addressing the letter to one or two of them and then saying in the first sentence, "I hope you and your associates can assist me..." or something like that.
     
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    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    I don't quite get the prejudice against using "Dear" in a salutation in a letter. It is highly conventional, after all, and for that matter, it's still in common use because I get both letters and emails addressed that way.

    [....]
    I may have missed it, but I didn't see any objection to using 'Dear' in a letter. The objection was to using 'Dear' in spoken address.
     

    Avanpost

    Member
    Russian
    Dear Kate, :)

    It was very interesting to read your detailed post. I feel I've got a lot out of it, as well as out of the previous ones. But could you tell me one more thing? Imagine situation in which we have a lot of women staying in the public place, and I need to make a speech for them (formal and semi-formal) on conditions that already said 'Good morning', 'Good day' e.t.c. How should I address to them? Maybe 'Dear women'? Or, if a word 'Dear' mustn't be used, just 'Women'? :D
     

    heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm still not sure why you feel you must address them as anything. If I understand correctly, you've already said 'Good morning', so why not just launch into your speech? There's no need for any more addressing to be done.

    Whatever you decide, please do not say 'Dear women', or, (worse still) just 'Women'. :eek:

    As an aside, we spell it 'etc'.
     

    Avanpost

    Member
    Russian
    I'm still not sure why you feel you must address them as anything. If I understand correctly, you've already said 'Good morning', so why not just launch into your speech? There's no need for any more addressing to be done.

    Whatever you decide, please do not say 'Dear women', or, (worse still) just 'Women'. :eek:

    As an aside, we spell it 'etc'.
    For example, I said 'Good day' some time ago and they haven't seen me for 2 hours. Then we meet again and need them to pay attention to me. If I can't say Ladies and Gentlemen (there aren't any men) as well as I can't just say 'Ladies' or 'Women', what should I say to start a speech? :)
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    I may have missed it, but I didn't see any objection to using 'Dear' in a letter. The objection was to using 'Dear' in spoken address.
    I must have misunderstood. My apologies. "Dear" is indeed not appropriate in spoken address unless the person actually is, well, dear to you. :)

    For example, I said 'Good day' some time ago and they haven't seen me for 2 hours. Then we meet again and need them to pay attention to me. If I can't say Ladies and Gentlemen (there aren't any men) as well as I can't just say 'Ladies' or 'Women', what should I say to start a speech? :)
    I agree with Velisarius. There's no reason for any sort of gender-specific address here. Just say "Hi" or "Hello/hallo" and go from there.

    The fact is that in English, this is much more complicated than it ought to be, Avanpost. Terms that logically ought to work are just loaded with too much emotional and cultural baggage. In the case of "ladies," while it traditionally has been used as a term of respect and sometimes still is, it has also - particularly in business - been misused over the years, serving as a way of putting adult working women in their place, and that place was subordinate to that of adult working men. I wish that weren't the case, but that's just the way it is. The same is true to an even greater extent for "girls," which also used to be a way to refer to one's female subordinates. ("Girl" used to be used to mean "secretary," e.g., "I'll get my girl to make a reservation for you." Yuck!) There are times and places in which both of these terms are actually fine - and there are also times when "guys" is OK, too, because in some groups that term is used in a thoroughly gender-neutral way - but there's no way any of us can codify those rules for you. It's too complicated and too subtle, and therefore it's best if ESL speakers avoid the issue. For that matter, many a native speaker has managed to mess this up by misreading his or her audience.

    Edit: Oh, and to refer to the start of this thread, "madam" is very seldom used in direct address. The shortened version "ma'am" is still very common, as is "miss," but these aren't used in the plural. For that matter, while "sir" is still very common in direct address, the plural "sirs" isn't common at all, except in the military.
     
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    dadane

    Senior Member
    English (London/Essex)
    I am going to put my neck on the block here and support Keith who seems somewhat isolated in this discussion. I don't see a problem with "Ladies" as a spoken form of address as it is simply the feminine of "Gentlemen", and, yes, I would use it.

    Excuse me, ladies, if that offends. ;)
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    Is Keith actually defending the use of "Ladies" or is he just giving an example of its use? I can't tell.

    Look, I don't personally find "Ladies" offensive, but I'm telling you now that even so there are people who can make it offensive just in the way they say it. You can probably judge how to say it, Dadane, since you're a native speaker, but I certainly can't explain to a non-native speaker the right way and the wrong way to use this term, so I strongly recommend that they avoid it, at least until they get a feel for how it's used in whatever group they're addressing.

    I mean, I've heard guys greet each other affectionately with "How are you doing, you son-of-bitch?" but I wouldn't recommend that non-native speakers try that, either!
     

    dadane

    Senior Member
    English (London/Essex)
    You can probably judge how to say it, Dadane, since you're a native speaker, but I certainly can't explain to a non-native speaker the right way...
    That is a very good point.

    Unfortunately, what may be acceptable is so much based on location, intonation, and even the regional accent of the speaker. I was trying to stress that it is common in current usage, rather than advise its usage.

    Edit. The problem is, I can't think of an alternative that I could use, that wouldn't sound patronising when uttered by me.

    PPS. "Girls" is also in common usage, but I definitely would not advise it.
     
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    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    It is common, but as one of the ladies in question, I can tell you that it's not uncommon for "Ladies" to be used quite badly. It's almost always inadvertent, too: The poor things are trying their best, they don't mean to offend, and yet they can end up giving completely the wrong impression.
     

    dadane

    Senior Member
    English (London/Essex)
    Ah. I am used more used to "girls" or "women" being used in that sense, rather than "ladies". "Girls" can be used in an extremely condescending manner. It would never occur to me to use "ladies" as anything other than a polite form. Funny old world...
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Is Keith actually defending the use of "Ladies" or is he just giving an example of its use? I can't tell...
    Well, both actually.

    I do see the difficulty. In the film Calendar Girls, a very smarmy photographer says "Hello ladies" in a suggestive way that gets the door slammed in his face. But in the same film, that's the phrase that the president of the Women's Institute uses to her own members. So Avanpost shouldn't worry, in a formal business situation he should be OK with "Hello ladies".
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    In formal speeches in the UK you will still hear:

    Your Royal Highness, My Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen etc. Depending on who is present.


    My suggestion:

    "Good afternoon everyone! Today I would like to talk about safety at work..."
     
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    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Loob, I've just realised that you're being coy. You've avoided using the words sexist and patronising in your posts.

    Perhaps this is in the eye of the beholder, or the context? There are many circles (I've named one) where "Hello Ladies" is still the norm.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Yes, I might be being coy, Keith. And yes, I haven't used the words sexist or patronising. And yes-yes-yes: it's in the eye of the beholder!

    Feel free to use the term "ladies" when addressing a group of women. But recognise also that those women may well resent this:).
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I forgot to mention the letter. It depends on the formality and the group you are addressing but I would simply say:

    Dear All
    As you know there will be a visit from the Mayor on Tuesday...
     

    JustKate

    Moderate Mod
    Yes, I might be being coy, Keith. And yes, I haven't used the words sexist or patronising. And yes-yes-yes: it's in the eye of the beholder!

    Feel free to use the term "ladies" when addressing a group of women. But recognise also that those women may well resent this:).
    I really, really, really think this term needs to be avoided in a business context, except when you're using it with "gentlemen": "Ladies and gentlemen." Really. It's a social title and its use should generally be confined to purely social contexts (and even there, you have to be careful, as your examples illustrate, Keith). Sure, some people get away with it, but how can a non-native speaker be expected to figure out the right way/time and the wrong way/time? Many a native speaker has messed it up, I can promise you that, and that includes those with the purest of motives.

    It's tricky. And everybody truly needs to realize that.
     
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    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I think Loob and JustKate make very good points, but I think I can also understand what dadane is trying to say.

    I think there is perhaps a context where I've heard ladies used without any controversy - women's meetings in a church. So there might be the men's breakfast group, and women's retreat. (And I can see 'ladies' retreat' in google too.) And if someone made an announcement that appealed to the women in mixed company, I would expect something like, 'Ladies, this announcement is for you'. I can't think of an alternative to 'ladies' there. And yes, this is a social and not a professional context.
     

    gfiorani

    New Member
    Italian
    Dear all,

    Thank you for this interesting thread.
    Even when reading it, I still have a doubt.

    I need, time after time, to address a group of ladies who work at school.
    They are the receptionists, so do not feel it appropriate to use their working title.
    I have a faint idea of their separate roles, and I do not know all their names.

    The message is formal, but not overly, and brief: normally I need to inform them of the absence of either one of my children, so that they can route the info to the teacher or to somebody else.

    From the messages, the only proper way to address them would be "Dear madam/sir", which would appear strange, given that it's practically impossible not to know that all of them are women: their office is close to the entrance and everybody passes by in the morning.

    Is there any "correct" way?

    Finally, I would also look for the "least worse": they are used to non-native speakers and would surely forgive any kind of mistake.

    Many thanks in advance to your expertise!!!
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hello gfiorani - welcome to the forums!

    I suggest you simply say "Good morning", "Good afternoon", or "Hello":).
     
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