Making family names or last names plural? More than one sister-in-law? More than one Mister? Learn how to address them properly.
The Strange Plural of “Mister”
Now on to the plural of “Mister.” Another newsletter subscriber, named Tom, asked me to comment on the use of “Messrs.”--which is the odd plural of “Mr.” It’s an abbreviation for the French word “Messieurs,” and for some reason I’ve never been able to find, we use that instead of “Misters.” I suspect it’s because the abbreviation would be “Mrs.,” which looks like the title for a married woman.
The plural of “Mrs.” is “Mmes.” (short for “Mesdames”), and the plural of “Miss” is “Misses.”The plural of “Ms.” is less clear. It originated in the 1950s, and various sources report that the plural can be “Mses.,” “Mss.,” or “Mmes.” If the need to make “Ms.” plural arises, pick the form you like and be consistent.
In American English, a period is required after the abbreviations; in British English, no punctuation is required after the abbreviations.
Tom also asked whether he should reserve “Messrs.” for men with the same last name or whether it is acceptable to use for any two men. Either is fine. It can be used to refer to two male family members with the same last name*, as in “Messrs. Smith have arrived covered in mud,” or to refer to two unrelated men (2), as in “Messrs. Bartleby and James should liven up the party.”
My impression is that “Messrs.” is used more commonly in Britain than in the United States. It appeared only once in the New York Times in the last month and over 20 times in the British newspaper The Guardian.
And with that, I wish you more mud than gossip at your holiday gatherings.
*Although it appears to be acceptable to put “the” in front of “Messrs.” (The Messrs. Smith have arrived), it is more common to see it written without the article.
1. in-laws. Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/in-laws (accessed: December 20, 2010).
2. I_have_heard_it_said_that_it_took. Dictionary.com. Columbia World of Quotations. Columbia University Press, 1996. http://quotes.dictionary.com/I_have_heard_it_said_that_it_took (accessed: December 20, 2010).