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Polite English: What to call people

You will learn what to call people in various situations. This might seem rather basic, but I have heard many foreigners and English learners make mistakes in this area. 
 
How do you know what to call someone?
 
It depends on many different factors such as the situation of the conversation, how many people, the genders of the people and your relation with them.
 
Formal and informal situations.
 
In other words, you know the name but it could be a formal situation or an informal situation.

Formal situation

You should always remember that only a few professionals have titles like doctors, police officers, professors, judges, prime ministers and there are many professions that do not have titles such as nurses, teachers, programmers, firemen, soldiers and dentists. 
 
The professionals with titles should always be referred to by their title. 
 
For example you may simply call someone Doctor. 
  • Doctor Samuels I have a pain in my lower back!
You do not have to use the Doctors name you can just use his or her title and refer to them as Doctor.
  • Doctor I have a pain in my lower back!
Even if you know a Professors last name you can just use their title “Professor”.
  • Professor Green, can I have my assignments for the last session please?
  • Professor, can I have my assignments for the last session please?
However if you are talking to a police officer and have seen his or her badge or name you could still just prefer to the person as Officer. It is nice and polite to refer to a police as officer.  
 
It is more common to refer to the person by their title in formal situations. 
 
If you know the name of the person and it is formal situation and are not good friends of yours then you should use Mr ,Ms, Miss or Mrs followed by their last name.
  • Mr Peterson I can not afford my rent this week, can I pay you next week?
  • Mrs Holmes do you want me to deliver it on Saturday?
If the conversation is with a woman and she is not married or you are not sure if she is married or not, then you say Ms.
  • Ms Lattimer I have filled all the boxes with soap, what would you like me to do now?
If you are talking with strangers you will not know their name so you should refer to them using their gender title. For men the general title is Sir and for women it is Madam.
  • Thank you sir.
  • Excuse me madam do you have any change for the machine?
This is very important in customer service if positions or if you work in a hotel.
  • Good morning sir.
  • Would you like help with your bags madam?
  • Would you like and early breakfast sir?

Informal situations

In informal situations with a person you know you can use their first name if  they have told you to use their name.
  • Mr Spencer can you help with my boxes please?
  • Please call me Frank!
Here Mr Spencer has stated that he wants to be referred to by his first name.
  • Frank, can you help with my boxes please?
Do not make the mistake of calling him Mr Frank as this is a common mistake that many students make. 
The same applies whether you’re addressing a woman or a man.
  • Laura can you help with my boxes please?
Like the formal situations you may have a conversation with someone who’s name  you do not know such as on the street or at a party. 
  • Hey mister you have dropped some money.
  • Hey dude that tune is awesome.
  • Hey man can you pass me my beer?
  • Bro did you see that girl walk past, she is fit.
For women it is slightly different as there are some terms that some women get offended by like babe or sweetheart while other women get offended by darling and girl.
 
So to be on the safe side I would suggest that you use Miss, madam, or Ma’am depending on their age.

Larger groups

For conversations where you’re talking to more that one person you should use the collective terms Gentlemen for men and Ladies for women.
  • Gentlemen can I have your attention please?
  • Ladies may I clear your table?
  • Good morning ladies.
Remember for mixed groups you should always put the women first.
  • Ladies and gentlemen would you like some tea or coffee?
You could also use ladies and gentlemen even if you know their names but are talking to a crowd of people.
  • Ladies and gentlemen would you like to start making your way to the bar please?
Or you could use the common expressions like folks or guys.
  • Hey guys would you like another beer?
  • Hey folks the band will be on stage in ten minutes.
If you are talking to children whether you know their names or not you should use the collective terms like children or kids. 
  • Hey kids would you like an ice cream?
  • It’s past your bedtime kids.
  • Children will you be quiet for ten minutes so I can speak to the police officer?
As you can see this is a simple set of rules that will enable you to have polite conversations in most areas of your life.
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