sir and mister

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jiamajia

Senior Member
Mandarin
When addressing a gentleman, I can say 'sir' by itself without adding his name to it (most times I don't actually know his name in the first place), but 'mister' seems to be used in 'Mr. + family name' pattern.

My question is: can we just use 'mister' in the same way as we do 'sir' by addressing a man 'mister' ? Thank you.
 
  • Using "mister" alone is disrespectful and usually used to show contempt.
    That's true when it's used in a confrontational or contemptuous way, like "buster" or "pal." Otherwise, it just sounds weird because we don't address people as "mister" without adding the surname.

    "Sir" is fine, but it is lamentably rare in modern American society. If you address a young man as "sir," you may get some odd looks, but no one will be offended. If you call him "mister," and are obviously not trying to be offensive, he is likely to be amused rather than offended. It sounds - please forgive me - like a classic non-native-speaker mistake.
     

    Tazzler

    Senior Member
    American English
    Use "mister" only with a family name. Using "mister" alone is disrespectful and usually used to show contempt.
    It also evokes images of little boys in film from decades ago. :D

    I agree; only "sir" should be used by itself. I don't think it's odd if you address a teenage boy by it. There isn't much else to use.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    If you call him "mister," and are obviously not trying to be offensive, he is likely to be amused rather than offended. It sounds - please forgive me - like a classic non-native-speaker mistake.
    It also sounds like a mother talking to a truant child: What do you think you're up to, Mister? :) Strictly hearsay, of course. :D
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I agree with what the others have said. In BE contexts, sir is used generally in the service industry (so I am often called sir when I am customer) and also in the school context (male teachers in some schools are called sir). In none of these contexts can sir be replaced with mister without causing offence.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Well, I would not be offended if called mista by a person, whose English is quite evidently a very distant second language and who obviously is unfamiliar with even basic etiquette. My point is that one takes offence only when one senses ill intent :)
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Yes, boozer, point taken. I probably wouldn't either.;) However, if we make many allowances for foreign language learners, they might not appreciate which terms are appropriate. And they might encounter less forgiving speakers than you.
     

    jiamajia

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/mister

    1 Mister the full form of Mr! In people's names, Mister is always written Mr.

    2 spoken especially American English used to address a man whose name you do not know: Thanks, mister.

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    Can our American friends verify the second definition to be validly used without offense? Thank you.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/mister

    1 Mister

    the full form of Mr! In people's names, Mister is always written Mr.

    2 spoken especially American English used to address a man whose name you do not know: Thanks, mister.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------

    Can our American friends verify the second definition to be validly used without offense? Thank you.
    It sure doesn't offend me when somebody tells me "Thanks, mister." I hear kids use "mister" like this more often than adults do.

    As long as the tone is friendly, I doubt many males over here would be offended by "mister". Some men might get offended if you knew them and knew that they had some other title like "Doctor". Then, using "mister" might seem insulting or disparaging. If you don't know who you're addressing or if the person you are talking to has no other title, then "mister" sounds fine to me.

    Some people are going to be offended no matter what form of address you use. Some people don't like to be called "sir" because it makes them feel old. Some people might not like "mister" because they think it sounds too informal or strange when spoken by an adult. I don't worry too much about "possible offense" when I address strangers. I try to be friendly and respectful as best I can. If people take offense at some word or another, I generally don't worry about that. When I have any choice in the matter, I avoid people who take offense easily.
     
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