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An honorific (Sometimes Honorable) is a word or expression that conveys esteem or respect when used in addressing or referring to a person. Sometimes the term is used not quite correctly to refer to a title of honor (honorary title). It is also often conflated with systems of honorific speech in linguistics, which are grammatical or morphological ways of encoding the relative social status of speakers.

Typically honorifics are used for second and third persons; use for first person is less common. Some languages have anti-honorific or despective first person forms (meaning something like "your most humble servant" or "this unworthy person") whose effect is to enhance the relative honor accorded a second or third person.

Modern English honorifics

The most common honorifics in modern English are usually placed immediately before the name of the subject. Honorifics which can be used of any adult of the appropriate sex include "Mr", "Mrs", "Miss", and "Ms". Other honorifics denote the honored person’s occupation, for instance "Doctor", "Coach", Officer, "Father" (for a priest), or "Professor". Abbreviations of academic degrees, used after a person's name, may also be seen as a kind of honorific (e.g. "Jane Doe, Ph.D.")

Some honorifics act as complete replacements for a name, as "Sir" or "Ma'am", or "Your Honour". Subordinates will often use honorifics as punctuation before asking a superior a question or after responding to an order: "Yes, Sir" or even "Sir, yes Sir."

A judge is addressed as "Your Honour" when on the bench, and may be referred to as "His/Her Honour"; the plural form would be "Your Honours". Similarly, a monarch (ranking as a king or emperor) and his consort may be addressed or referred to as "Your/His/Her Majesty", "Their Majesties", etc. (but there is no customary honorific accorded to a female monarch's consort, as he is usually granted a specific style). Monarchs below kingly rank are addressed as "Your/His/Her Highness", the exact rank being indicated by an appropriate modifier, e.g. "His Serene Highness" for a member of a princely dynasty, or "Her Grandducal Highness" for a member of a family that reigns over a grand duchy. Verbs with these honorifics as subject are conjugated in the third person (e.g. "you are going" vs. "Your Honour is going" or "Her Royal Highness is going".)

Honorifics in other languages and cultures

Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome had Roman honorifics like that of Augustus which turned into titles over time.


Spanish has a number of honorific forms that may be used with or as substitutes for names, such as señor 'Mr., Sir, gentleman', señora 'Mrs., Lady, ma'am, lady', señorita 'Miss, young lady', licenciado 'person with a bachelor's degree', maestro 'teacher, master mechanic, person with a master's degree', doctor 'doctor', etc.


Italian honorifics are usually limited to formal situations.


Turkish honorifics generally follow the first name, especially if they refer to gender or particular social statuses (e.g. Name Bey (Mr.), Name Hanım (Ms.), Name Hoca (teacher or cleric)). Such honorifics are used both in formal and informal situations. A newer honorific is "Sayın", which precedes the surname or full name, and is not gender-specific. (e.g. Sayın Name Surname, or Sayın Surname). They are generally used in very formal situations.


Indian honorifics abound, covering formal and informal relationships for social, commercial, spiritual and generational links. Honorifics may be prefix, suffix or replacement types. There are many variations across Indiamarker. In Gujarati, for an uncle who is your mother's brother the replacement honorific "maama" (long "a" then short "a") is used and a male friend will often earn the suffix honorific of "bhai".
  • The traditional Hindi honorific is the suffix -ji. For example M.K. Gandhi (The Mahatma) was often referred to as Gandhi-ji.
  • The traditional Marathi honorific is the suffix -rao. For example Madhav Scindia was referred to as Madhav-rao.
  • The traditional Tamil honorific is the suffix Avargal/Vaal. The Dalai Lama would become Dalai Lama Avargal.
  • The traditional Telugu honorific is the suffix Garu. Thus the Dalai Lama would be Dalai Lama Garu.


Korean honorifics are used not only as sentences but also words. The use of honorifics in Korean arose as a result of Confucianism.


During the ancient and imperial periods, Chinese honorifics varied greatly based on one's social status, but with the end of Imperial China, many of these distinctions fell out of colloquial use. Some honorifics remain in use today, especially in formal writings for the court and business setting.


Japanese honorifics are similar to English titles like "Mister" and "Miss"; but in Japanese, which has many honorifics, their use is mandatory in many formal and informal social situations. Japanese grammar as a whole tends to function on hierarchy—honorific stems are appended to verbs and some nouns, and in many cases one word may be exchanged for another word entirely with the same verb- or noun-meaning, but with different honorific connotations. The Japanese personal pronouns are a good example of the honorific hierarchy of the Japanese language—there are five or more words that correspond to each of the English words, "I" and "you".


Malay honorifics are the Malay language's complex system of titles and honorifics which is still extensively used in Malaysiamarker and Bruneimarker. Singaporemarker, whose Malay royalty was abolished by the British colonial government in 1891, has adopted civic titles for its leaders.



People who have a strong sense of egalitarianism, such as Quakers and certain socialists, eschew honorific titles. When addressing or referring to someone, they will use the person's name, an informal pronoun, or some other style implying social equality, such as "brother", "friend", or "comrade". This was also the practice in Revolutionary France which used Citoyen (Citizen) as the manner of address.

See also

Culturally specific usage

General usage

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