Señorita / Señora - what ages and marital status?

Discussion in 'Spanish-English Vocabulary / Vocabulario Español-Inglés' started by radiodurans, Mar 18, 2010.

  1. radiodurans Senior Member

    Hi so I used to think that "Señora" was if you were married only . . . but then I had to use it for a single older lady so I did "Señora" making me think it had to do more with age. So I tried it out on a 25 year old single lady and she objected and said it is Señorita (I think because it made her sound older than she was).

    I was curious how everyone uses it and if it is age dependent, what age you consider as the cut-off and if it varies throughout the Spanish speaking world. Right now my rule is to just call all women Señorita unless I know they go by Señora.
  2. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    I was taught exactly the opposite: In a polite conversation when you don't know marital status of a woman, use señora for anyone who can be reasonably assumed to have married. It is better if they correct you with a señorita than the other way around. :)
  3. azulmaría Senior Member

    Buenos Aires, Argentina.
    Spanish - Argentina
    This is a hard question you are asking, because there is not a rule for these cases.
    I personally use señora for old ladies, but there is not actually a cut-off age... for example, if you are talking to a thirty eight-year-old woman... how would you call her? It depends on the speaker, and on how the person the speaker is talking to likes to be called.

    Regarding señorita, I do not use it. I am 22 years old, so if I have to talk to a person my age, I would never call her señorita. It simply sounds extremely formal and not natural. But if there is an old man talking to her, he would definitely call her that way, because it has to do with register and the "age distance" between them.

    I don´t think the use of these words depends on the marital status of the person you are talking to. If I were married, old people would still call me señorita, and that would be perfectly normal. It would also be unusual to call an old single lady señorita.

    Unfortunately, there is not a rule to follow... we native speakers also doubt in some situations whether to call a young/old/married/single lady señorita o señora.

    Hope I made myself clear!

  4. Södertjej

    Södertjej Senior Member

    Junto al Mediterráneo
    Spanish ES/Swedish (utlandssvensk)
    There are some old threads about it, which may shed some light on the issue. In short: it's a cultural usage that has changed in some areas, not in others.

    Here's one.
  5. caniho Senior Member

    Andalusian Spanish
    In Spain señorita sounds totally old-fashioned, so I wouldn't use it at all. When you're here, just call a woman señora if you would use the usted form with her.
  6. VictorBsAs Senior Member

    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    Spanish - Argentina
    I agree with azulmaria.
    'Señora' and 'señorita' are words that you are suposed to use only with people that you treat by 'usted'. Nowadays, 'usted' is reserved for respect and then for mostly old persons, and then naturally, the word 'señorita' is becoming less and less common.
    In Argentina, the teacher of primary school is called señorita, even if she is not so young.
    Sometimes if you are interested in knowing if a woman is married, then you may call her 'señorita' and see if she corrects you. :)
  7. Adolfo Afogutu

    Adolfo Afogutu Senior Member

    En mi entorno, fuera de las aulas escolares, no se escucha un "señorita" ni por casualidad; si es necesario llamarle de alguna manera lo usual es "señora", sea casada o no, vaya por el quinto marido, viuda o divorciada poco interesa, y en una situación formal preguntarlo sería el colmo de la intromisión. Agrego que en mi tierra resultaría totalmente ridículo que alguien que tuviera que guardar distancias (un empleado de un hotel con un cliente, por ejemplo) se dirigiera a una chica de 16 años llamándola "señora". Antes decían "señorita"; ahora probablemente le dirían "joven".
  8. Södertjej

    Södertjej Senior Member

    Junto al Mediterráneo
    Spanish ES/Swedish (utlandssvensk)
    Totalmente de acuerdo.
  9. radiodurans Senior Member

    OK because single ladies in their 20s in Barranquilla Colombia seem to take offense when I call them Señora telling me "Noooooooo! I'm not a Señora yet! It is 'Señorita'!" Maybe "Señora" is just too formal in their culture, or you need to meet certain quiaification like having kids first . . . I had originally thought it was exactly like Madame/Mademoiselle in French . . . My rules for applying the French equivalents of Madame/Mademoiselle is:

    Mademoiselle = known not to be married, Madame = known to be married

    if unsure I use the following test:

    a) if an adult would have legal problems if they slept with her because of her age, it is "Mademoiselle" by default, if no legal issues, b) Madame by default.
  10. mulmex

    mulmex Senior Member

    Que deberías hacer depende en la cultura del país donde hablas. No hay una respuesta correcta por todos. Sería mejor en un nuevo lugar, hablar con amigos para saber los costumbres regionales.
  11. Fer BA

    Fer BA Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano de Buenos Aires
    Absolutamente. Aquí (BA) ya ni a las maestras se les dice señorita (se les dice la seño y los chicos que van a la escuela no saben ni de donde viene el término, y si les preguntas asumen que de señora).

    Hace unos cuarenta años atrás había una publicidad de ropa en la que un muchacho joven se dirigía a una mujer de unos 80 años como señora, y ella replicaba, ofendidísima, señorita (señalando su virginidad, o al menos su soltería, como una virtud). Y ya en esa época, el término señorita estaba en desuso hacía mucho tiempo.

    Así que si tus amigas de Barranquilla, te señalan el error, haceles caso. Si vas a otros lugares, averiguá el uso antes de mucho más que eso.
  12. zumac Senior Member

    Mexico City
    USA: English & Spanish
    So far in this thread, we have gotten opinions from Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, etc.

    Well, in Mexico City today, the standard way of addressing any woman is señorita. This applies to an office setting, a school setting, a customer addressing a waitress, or a clerk in a store addressing a female customer. I have never heard of a married woman being offended by being called señorita.

    As they say: "different strokes for different folks."

  13. Adolfo Afogutu

    Adolfo Afogutu Senior Member

    That’s true, just imagine how boring it would be if we all shared the same social conventions. No doubt we would have much less to discuss in this forum. Richness in diversity, zumac.
  14. Södertjej

    Södertjej Senior Member

    Junto al Mediterráneo
    Spanish ES/Swedish (utlandssvensk)
    Just in this case I can't help but wonder if it really is richness or pure male chauvinism. Nowhere are men called señor or señorito depending on whether they're married or not, as soon as they're old enough to be called señor. And no one seems to regret such a "poor" usage.

    Man = señor. Woman = señora. Adding nuances only to women when directly connected with their virginity/ability to land a husband is most suspicious to say the least.
  15. radiodurans Senior Member

    Well, if it is chauvinism, it exists in all the Western European Languages that I know. I mean, you can't really tell if she is a virgin as you state by the title alone (though in good Catholic teaching she should be, which everyone is assumed to follow ;)). It is more of like a warning system not to hit on someone with "Mrs." in English, since perhaps she is more apt to already have children? Guys never worry about that with "Mr." At least the surnames are a little more gender equal than in English ... Per my look at wikipedia: the first surname is the father's first surname, and the second is the mother's first surname, but this traditional order is reversible per current gender equality law." That seems kinda bad for the kids though because everyone knows who everyone was sleeping with, but it might hold the dad more accountable for all the names floating around on his children.
  16. Södertjej

    Södertjej Senior Member

    Junto al Mediterráneo
    Spanish ES/Swedish (utlandssvensk)
    There you are... it's all about women signalling they're "on the market". Men don't have to because they take the first step, I suppose.

    And yes, it's an old tradition in Western Europe because we have centuries of that kind usages. But things changed a lot in the 20th century.

    No one in their right mind in Scandinavia would use the Scandinavian counterpart for señorita.

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