Writing Style – Ms. or Ms

Kirby’s question: “I know you have written about the abbreviations Mr., Mrs., and Ms. before. However, is it correct, as Ms. is not a true abbreviation, not to place a period after it? With each year, we are using Ms. more often than either Miss or Mrs.”

BizWritingTip response: Ms. can be written with or without the period. It is a style issue rather than a grammar concern. However, there is a growing trend in North America to use the period.

I prefer to use the period as it supports the purpose for which the word was re-added to the English language. It parallels Mr. or Mrs. The Canadian Press Stylebook, The Gregg Reference Manual and The Oxford Canadian Dictionary all support this.

Ms or Ms. is used when (1) a woman’s marital status is not relevant to the situation, (2) her marital status is not known, or (3) the woman prefers the title.

Interestingly, up until the 17th century, Ms. was used along with Miss and Mrs., as a short form for the formal Mistress. Like the title of Mister, Mistress did not refer to marital status. After that date, Miss and Mrs. became more accepted usage.

Ms. started to reappear in the early 1900s as a way to avoid embarrassment when addressing a woman and not being sure of whether she was married. But it didn’t really take off until the 1970s and the feminist movement. It really helped, of course, when Gloria Steinheim made it the title of her popular magazine Ms. in 1972.

Contrary to what some people believe — Ms. does not indicate a divorced woman.