Free French Lessons
Lesson 36. Vocabulary
Well, it's official. French Prime Minister François Fillon has declared that the title mademoiselle (Miss) will no longer be included on any government forms or documents. The decision comes after months of campaigning by two French feminist groups, Osez le féminisme! (Dare To Be Feminist!) and Les Chiennes de garde (The Watchdogs), who argue that the term places an unfair emphasis on a woman's marital status. Mademoiselle literally means "my young lady" (ma + demoiselle), just as madame comes from "my lady" and monsieur "my lord." Monsieur has long been used to identify both single and married men, as the archaic male equivalent of mademoiselle, mon damoiseau, never became an honorific title. Now madame will be used for all women, whether single or married, and is thus best translated as "Ms." instead of "Mrs."
The Prime Minister's order will also replace nom de jeune fille (maiden name) and nom patronymique (patronymic) with nom de famille (family name), and nom d'époux/nom d'épouse (married name) with nom d'usage (used name).
Like "Ms." and "Mr." in English, madame and monsieur are usually abbreviated and capitalized when preceding a name:
Mes professeurs préférés sont Mme Fournier et M. Martin.
My favorite teachers are Ms. Fournier and Mr. Martin.
Note that there is no period after Mme, but there is one after M. (The abbreviation for mademoiselle, Mlle, also has no period.)
You can use madame and monsieur by themselves to address a person as "ma'am" or "sir":
Madame, qu'est-ce que vous avez préparé, vous?
Ma'am, what about you, what did you prepare?
Ne riez pas, monsieur, c'est très sérieux.
Do not laugh, sir, it's quite serious.
Madame and monsieur are used quite a bit more often in French than "ma'am" or "sir" in English. When you enter a shop, for example, you’re more likely to hear Bonjour, madame/monsieur! rather than just Bonjour!
When referring to a third person, madame and monsieur can also be used for "lady" and "gentleman":
Non, c'est madame qui a préparé le riz.
No, it's the lady who prepared the rice.
Y a un beau monsieur là de quatre-vingt-treize ans qui veut vous inviter, hein!
There's a handsome ninety-three-year-old gentleman here who wants to invite you, you know!
Cap. 29, Actu Vingtième: Le Repas des anciens
Sometimes, you might see madame, monsieur, and mademoiselle in the plural (mesdames, messieurs, mesdemoiselles), especially when someone or something is being introduced:
Mesdames et messieurs, sans plus tarder, voici Hugo Bonneville.
Ladies and gentlemen, without further delay, here is Hugo Bonneville.
Cap. 4-5, Hugo Bonneville: Être musicien
Monsieur le Premier Ministre (Mr. Prime Minister) may have banned mademoiselle from official use, but that probably won't cause the singer Mademoiselle K to change her stage name. You can watch the video for her song Me taire te plaire (Keeping Quiet to Please You), featuring Zazie, right here on Yabla French.