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This article is about the title. For other uses, see Sir (disambiguation).

Sir is an honorific address used as a courtesy title to address a man without using his given name or family name in many English speaking cultures. It is often used in formal correspondence (Dear Sir, Right Reverend Sir).

The term is often reserved for use only towards one of superior rank or status, such as an educator, or as a form of address from a merchant to a customer.

Equivalent terms of address are "ma'am" or "madam" in most cases, or in the case of a very young woman, girl, or unmarried woman who prefers to be addressed as such, "miss". Also, in Australia and Britain, female high school teachers are often addressed as "miss" even if they are married. The equivalent term for a knighted woman is Dame, or "Lady" for the wife of a knight.


Sir derives from the Middle French honorific title sire (messire gave rise to mylord), from the Old French sieur[contradictory] (itself a contraction of Seigneur meaning 'lord'), from the Latin adjective senior (elder), which yielded titles of respect in many European languages. The form sir is first documented in English in 1297, as title of honor of a knight or baronet, being a variant of sire, which was already used in English since at least c.1205 as a title placed before a name and denoting knighthood, and to address the (male) Sovereign since c.1225, with additional general senses of "father, male parent" is from c.1250 and "important elderly man" from 1362.

Formal styling[edit]

In formal protocol Sir is the correct styling for a knight or a baronet (the United Kingdom nobiliary rank just below all peers of the realm), used with (one of) the knight's given name(s) or full name, but not with the surname alone ("Sir James Paul McCartney", "Sir Paul McCartney", or "Sir Paul", but never "Sir McCartney"). The equivalent for a woman is Dame, that is, for one who holds the title in her own right; for such women, the title "Dame" is used as "Sir" for a man, that is, never before the surname on its own. This usage was devised in 1917, derived from the practice, up to the 17th century (and still also in legal proceedings), for the wife of a knight. The wife of a knight or baronet, however, is currently styled "Lady [Surname]" (e.g. "Lady McCartney", but never "Lady Linda McCartney," which is reserved for the daughter of a duke, marquess or earl, or now more recently, for a female member of the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle who possesses no higher title).

In the UK and in certain Commonwealth realms (i.e., independent nations that share the British sovereign as their respective heads of state), the following honours (including the three dormant ones) permit male subjects of those realms to use the prefix Sir:

Current honours[edit]

United Kingdom and Commonwealth[edit]

Antigua and Barbuda[edit]



New Zealand[edit]

Dormant honours[edit]

The following currently dormant honours once permitted male subjects of the UK and Commonwealth realms to use the prefix Sir:

Kingdom of Ireland[edit]

Established in 1783 and primarily awarded to men associated with the Kingdom of Ireland. Regular creation of new knights of the order ended in 1921 upon the formation of the Irish Free State. With the death of the last knight in 1974, the Order became dormant.

British Raj[edit]

As part of the consolidation of the British Raj, the Order of the Star of India was established in 1861 to reward prominent British and Indian civil servants, military officers and prominent Indians associated with the Empire. The Order of the Indian Empire was established in 1878 as a junior-level order to accompany the Order of the Star of India. The last creations of knights of either order were made on 15 August 1947 upon Indian independence.

All British honours and their accompanying styles were officially made obsolete in India when the Dominion of India became a modern Commonwealth republic in 1950, followed by Pakistan in 1956. The Order of the Star of India became dormant in the Commonwealth realms from February 2009, and the Order of the Indian Empire after August 2010, when the last knights of the orders died.

Combinations with other titles and styles[edit]

In the case of a military officer who is also a knight, the appropriate form of address puts the professional military rank first, then the correct manner of address for the individual, then his name. Examples include:

This is also the case with academic titles such as professor:

However, the title Doctor is not used in combination with Sir: the knighthood takes precedence, and knighted doctors are addressed as knights, though they may still use any postnominal letters associated with their degrees.

With regard to British knighthood, a person who is not a citizen of a Commonwealth realm who receives an honorary knighthood is entitled to use any postnominal letters associated with the knighthood, but not the title "Sir". A similar convention applies to Church of England clergy who receive knighthoods, for example:

Clergy of other denominations may use different conventions.

Dual nationals holding a Commonwealth citizenship that recognise the British monarch as head of state are entitled to use the styling. Common usage varies from country to country: for instance, dual Bahamian-American citizen Sidney Poitier, knighted in 1974, is often styled "Sir Sidney Poitier", particularly in connection with his official ambassadorial duties, although he himself rarely employs the title.

Especially in North America, the style "Sir" is frequently employed by Knights of the Order of Malta - from which the Venerable Order of Saint John emerged[3] - and also the Knights of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (female members of these orders are styled as Dame or Lady).

Use in disciplined services[edit]

The common use of Sir instead of the rank specific address for a senior officer in a military, police or other hierarchical organisation is rather specific to English and, in some instances, French (Canada).

In most languages, no such general address is considered respectful,[citation needed] or the two are combined, as in German Herr followed by the rank.

It is common in British tabloid newspaper slang as a shorthand for 'schoolteacher': Sir's sex shame.[citation needed]

When addressing a male superior (e.g. Officer or Warrant Officer, but not usually a non-commissioned officer, in the military), "sir" is used as a short form of address.

Despite its use in many fictional works, this is not a term used for female superiors, who are addressed as "ma'am". However, recruits of the United States Marine Corps and United States Coast Guard address both male commissioned and non-commissioned officers as "sir" in basic training, especially drill instructors (USMC) and company commanders (USCG). Enlisted members of the United States Military always address Commissioned Officers as "sir". During training "sir" is implied and will be replaced by the rank and grade of those addressed after initial indoctrination.[citation needed]

In the United States Air Force, "sir" is appropriate only for addressing commissioned officers. Use of "sir" with enlisted is inappropriate, all individuals may be addressed as "airman" regardless of rank, although referring to enlisted by their rank or general "tier" terms(airman, sergeant or chief) are also accepted per Air Force Instruction 36-2618, chapter 3.[citation needed]

In both the United States Army and British Armed Forces, addressing an NCO as "Sir" is incorrect. In the British Army, however, an NCO is referred to as "sir" when he is on parade if an officer is present, as the NCO is deemed to be acting under the officer's authority.[citation needed]

In the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, only commissioned officers are addressed as "sir"; NCOs and constables are addressed by their rank.[citation needed]

Male British police officers of the rank of Inspector or above are addressed as "Sir" (women of inspecting rank are called Ma'am).[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Royal Navy Flag Officers, 1904-1945: Admiral of the Fleet Sir Bruce Fraser,
  2. ^ Australian Dictionary of Biography: Field Marshal Sir Thomas Albert Blamey,
  3. ^ Your Paintings, BBC. "". Your Paintings - BBC. BBC U.K. Government. Retrieved Dec 31, 2013. "This portrait and the biographical research associated with it's subject - Sir Edward Sieveking - establishes that both the "Order of Malta" and the "Veritable Order of St John" (of Jerusalem) afforded the recipient of a knighthood the courtesy title "Sir". This practice has occurred for some time in countries, usually outside of the UK." 

External links[edit]