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What is the difference between Mademoiselle and Madame

by | Jan 11, 2023 | Learn French

You may have heard both words ‘mademoiselle’ and ‘madame’ to refer to a woman – however ‘mademoiselle’ is in modern times no longer acceptable. This is why!

Who do you describe as ‘Mademoiselle’?

The word ‘Mademoiselle’ was used to describe an unmarried young girl and the word is composed of two words ‘ma’ and ‘demoiselle’.

Origin of the word ‘Mademoiselle’

A long time ago, in the middle ages, the word ‘demoiselle’ was used for a young girl or noble woman who had no title and who was not married yet.

Later in the 18th century, the word ‘demoiselle’ was only used to describe women who were not yet married. Regardless of their age, throughout their lives, young or old and always single, they always would have been called ‘demoiselle’ (or translated ‘young lady’).

The expression is associated with marriage and designating the woman as a virgin and ready to marry.

In the French civil code, or ‘Code Napoléon’, established in 1804 was described that women were minors for life. And women are not considered independent nor free.

This also meant that a woman was always subjected to the authority of her husband or father. And therefore also has to depend on a man.

Is it still acceptable to use ‘mademoiselle’?

Which is the reason for many successful campaigns in the past to remove the word ‘mademoiselle’ from official documents. The word is now by many considered sexist and discriminating against women. And the word is banned by law on work contracts, official administration documents and so on.

Abbreviations for madame, monsieur and mademoiselle

If you would like to avoid using the wrong abbreviation by accident. These are the abbreviations used for mademoiselle, madame and monsieur.

Mlle‘ = Mademoiselle (singular)

Mlles‘ = Mesdemoiselles (plural of mademoiselle)

Mme‘ = Madame (singular)

Mmes‘ = Mesdames (plural of madame)

M.‘ = Monsieur

MM.’ = Messieurs (plural of monsieur)

Final thoughts

In summary, we simply recommend only using the word ‘madame’ or ‘mesdames’. And a bonus tip for when you would like to greet a man-woman couple, during a walk for example. You could also say ‘Bonjour messieurs-dames’!

Josh

Josh

Salut, I’m Josh! I love skateboarding, cooking, photography and learning – even though I was a terrible student back in the days. Moved to France with Robin in 2018 and we have together been working in marketing for over a decade.

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