Does Fräulein imply that the woman being addressed is not fully a Frau? Does it imply a lower class status?

  • Sorry not to answer the question… but this link sheds some light on the surrounding issues! BBC News feature on a French town banning the word for 'Miss'
    – Edd Turner
    Commented Jan 17, 2012 at 12:34
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    Just an aside on the the second question, since the main one has been answered well. Definitely no associations of lower class whatsoever. Actually the opposite is true to some extent. While most modern connotations of Fräulein are almost identical to those of Miss in English, Fräulein can also be used in contexts where it denotes nobility: "adliges Fräulein". This dates back to the time when Frau was still meant noble lady, Frauenzimmer referred to the non-noble women surrounding one, and the normal word for woman was Weib.
    – user2183
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 4:46
  • Just as relevant for German Fräulein as for English Miss (or Hofstadter's Niss referring to unemployed blacks): "A Person Paper on Purity in Language" by Douglas Hofstadter. The full text should be easy enough to find with Google.
    – user2183
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 4:52

9 Answers 9


Fräulein is a diminutive ('Verniedlichungsform') of Frau.

Diminution is considered an intimate act, used a lot with nicknames couples give each other (Häschen, Mäuschen, Bienchen, Bärchen) or for "lovely little beings" like children and pets. So using Fräulein has a touch of intimacy not convenient to many women.

Addressing an unkown woman as Fräulein can be considered as impolite as using Du without having been offered it. The word Fräulein was particularly used to call waitresses and other female assistance in service jobs (not necessarily a bad status, even a female manager of an hotel would be a Fräulein).

Etymology of the word

Until the beginning of the 19th century the word Frau was only used for royal women, a Fräulein was their female child. Within the 19th century the word meaning changed and became used for women having a profession. This usually ended with marriage (in some cases, e.g. female teachers, you had to be unmarried to work). This indicated that a Fräulein was unmarried and "free to go". This part of the name didn't change even when getting very old as long as you didn't marry (and gave up the profession).

The usage of Fräulein is discouraged by the state since 1972 in Germany. In the same decade the feministic movement pointed out that using the diminutive form changes the gender of the word from female to neutrum, this can be considered equally to not acknowlidging the gender of a person but is felt by many as a philosophical question. Since most of the time diminutives are used to address pets and children, the conclusion that Fräulein are not seen as independent and self-determined beings can't be disproved.

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    Recently meaning "45 years" here. Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 2:54
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    "touch of intimacy"? If this were Wikipedia, I'd slap "original research" on it. Here, I call it speculation. Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 1:35
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    I made a logical chain, is there something not clear for you or an assumption in the chain you'd like to discuss? Commented Jun 15, 2011 at 20:10
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    Just as a warning for people reading this: This answer is just wrong. There is nothing intimate about calling someone „Fräulein Müller“. Also, as correct answers have pointed out, this used to be the correct way to address an unmarried woman. It is just not used anymore, for reasons that also have been pointed out.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Sep 10, 2013 at 10:14
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    @CarstenSchultz Please give arguments for your comment, help to improve the answer and don't forget the bigger picture (we're talking about at least Germany, Austria and Switzerland and we are talking about the current point of language development) of the language. I know that using Fräulein was common, but it isn't anymore and I tried to lay out the reasons. Your phrasing implies absolute knowledge ('just wrong', 'nothing intimidating') but without argument it seems to be just biased. Thank you. Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 18:16

A major effort from feminist linguistics is achieving equality of men and women in spoken or written language. All terms that discriminate men and women should be avoided.

Fräulein (the diminutive of Frau) was especially criticized as it did not only discriminate in sex but also has a strong sexist association by the meaning of Fräulein being an unmarried woman. The use of Junggeselle for an unmarried man is used in a very different context and was never used when addressing someone. Therefore the use of Fräulein is strongly discouraged.


Birgit Eickhoff: Gleichstellung von Frauen und Männern in der Sprache. Duden

Susanne Kippenberger: Hallo Fräulein! Der Tagesspiegel

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    The "diminutive" is the important bit here: it's like calling a grown woman "girl" (or a man "Jungchen"). It implies you're not a full woman if you're no married. That's why it can be taken as offensive. And no, I don't blame "feminist linguistics", I blame waking up and realizing what we actually do say and what those words do and always did imply. Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 14:19
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    When I was a kid there were some old unmarried ladies that would have been embarrased when not being called Fräulein. This has changed a lot since then.
    – Takkat
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 14:29
  • So why do they still have two words for every profession? It's incredibly annoying/irritating to read/look at a piece/section of text/writing referring to the masculine/feminine version of a job title/profession Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 8:52
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    @adolfgarlic, well, feminists are protesting agains using masculinum forms of proffessions when describing women. Yes, in some countries they want the opposite, yes, in some countries they want both at the same time, no, you don't need to try to look up for deeper sense there.
    – user1690
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 12:56

'Fräulein' was mainly used for unmarried women, and therefore for very young women when in doubt. Not being married was often considered a failure, and even a female professor, 50 years old, could have been called 'Fräulein'.

"This is Fräulein Meier" is nearly equivalent of telling somebody "This is Mr. Müller. He isn't married yet." Independent from his social status as a professional person, independent from age, and from the person you're talking too, man or woman, adult or child, maybe interested in marrying somebody (Mr. Müller) or not.

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    Yes, of course it is very useful for dating, but it is asymetrical - mens weren't threatened like that, and those Fräuleins where not asked, whether they like to see this information leaked. And 3rd, often forgotten, it implicitly means for all women which were introduced as "Frau Schmitt": 'attention, she is married, belongs to somebody!', so not that helpful for dating for them. Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 14:06
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    Oh, so then it would be an instrument against polygamy as well! I was joking.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 14:08
  • Depends on the perspective. For people who strongly prefer polygamy, it would be disclosing of useful information. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 13:52
  • Hah, very true. I suppose she should have a chip built in that transmits her dating preferences through wifi.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 17:54

Yes, it absolutely is offensive. It is also not used at all anymore (except in some situations with small children).

It does not denote class status, it marks the difference between married or unmarried. (It may have denoted class status historically in the sense that a young woman of low class would have gotten no honorific at all, but be called by her first name, but then, an older woman of low class would not have gotten a respectful address, either, so I don't think that this is very relevant here.)

It is offensive and outdated today because:

  • It is a diminutive that does not exist in a male form at all and indicates that an unmarried woman is not a full adult while a married woman and an unmarried man are regardless of age and accomplishments.

  • It implies that it always has to be public information whether a woman is "available" or not.

  • Many women do not marry at all and still have careers and families, so this has felt more and more wrong. (The abolishment also had a lot to do with people calling unmarried mothers with children "Fräulein" in public to draw attention to their amorality.)

  • "Frau" is the equivalent of "Herr" and just means "woman" which makes it much clearer than in other languages that the married title does not have an inherent meaning of marriage, but of being adult, and that this is the analogous address.

Additional remark:

Another diminutive of Frau is Frauchen. "Frauchen" and "Herrchen" is used symmetrically in the sole context of pet owners.

"Der Hund vermisst sein Herrchen." means "The dog misses his (male) owner."

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    To view "Fräulein" as offensive is the hallmark of a fanatic and arguably misguided egalitarianism with little understanding for how things have evolved historically. "Mademoiselle", "signorina" and "señorita" are exactly the same as "Fräulein", and it wouldn't occur to people in those countries to find issue with that expression. (At least I hope!)
    – Lumi
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 10:30
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    @Lumi: You are of course entitled to think of German women as fanatic and misguided, and of history as a proof of the respectable treatment of unmarried women by chivalrous men, but I don't think that these personal opinions of you are relevant to this question.
    – Phira
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 11:13
  • Do Frauchen and Herrchen imply anything about the age of the owner, or is this another use of the diminutive that indicates closeness, as in Samuel's answer?
    – Greg Bacon
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 12:59
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    @Greg Bacon: They don't imply anything about the age of the owner, I would expect an adult owner in a neutral sentence. Note that a diminutive indicates closeness (or condescension) primarily if you use it to address someone, this is very similar to the use of "du". The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that "Herrchen" and "Frauchen" is mostly used if implicitly the viewpoint of the dog is taken as in my example sentence.
    – Phira
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 13:09
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    It is not absolutely offensive. Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 14:05

I wouldn't say it's offensive. It's rather dated and rarely used. That's all.

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    It depends whom you are addressing. Try to call Alice Schwarzer "Fräulein Schwarzer"! ;)
    – splattne
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 9:39
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    Miss Schwarzer is fundamentalist, I wouldn't call her at all.
    – mbx
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 10:29
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    It definitely depends on the way it's said and the context, but outside of friends and family, I'd almost always think that when someone addresses a women with Fräulein it's because he wants to make clear "who's the boss". It doesn't have any place outside verbal assault in modern German language. Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 11:11
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    Probably not. Either way she'd notice me as an enemy.
    – mbx
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 15:16
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    I disagree. Women in a Kindergarten do not feel offended if the children call them "Fräulein". Read the Wikipedia article which quotes a study from 2008. The study says that only 7 percent think "Fräulein" is disgusting, 47 percent use the word themselves.
    – Dominik
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 23:07

The same tendency of avoiding to categorize by marital status is observed in English and French.

In French, the term mademoiselle is mostly used for addressing young children, rarely adults, though I still hear people of the baby-boomer generation use it for younger women. They just want to be polite, the meaning of not being married has somewhat disappeared from the "common" use of the word. The dictionaries mention this term is old-fashioned and better avoided nowadays. I've also seen the term madelle, which might be the equivalent of junggeselle, but the uptake of that neologism hasn't been great.

I've also been told by numerous Anglophones that Mrs is not to be used anymore in generic communications, as it refers to someone married, contrarely to Ms. There was this case where a nun received a letter from a public institution with Mrs on it and she was so upset that she sent an official complaint letter to the institution in question.

So yeah, I think it's just the language evolving with our culture, where marriage and religion is becoming less prominent.


It should be noted that, while using "Fräulein" for (obviously) grown-up women can be taken as offensive, and is at least awkward (but can still be used in jest, if you know the recipient well enough)...

... addressing a girl that is obviously not an adult as "Frau" is quite awkward too. I don't expect any girl to be insulted (well, one can never know...) but don't be surprised if you garner some rather funny looks :D


"Fräulein" is the German equivalent of "mademoiselle". As stated by others, it used to indicate marital status.

Modern feminist ideology, hugely successful in all Germanic countries, considers distinctions based on marital status politically incorrect. So there's been a cultural campaign to ban the expression from common usage.

As a result, a convenient and polite way to directly accost a young lady has been eliminated, so nowadays people have to resort to clumsy drop-ins like "Hallo!" or "Tschuldigung!", whereas you can still say "junger Mann" to accost a young man, typically as in "Junger Mann, könnten Sie mir mit dem Gepäck hlefen?"

The Wikipedia article on "Fräulein" has some good information.

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    You can say "Junge Frau" as well.
    – swegi
    Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 8:35
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    "Oh, those evil feminists". I call bullshit. If there had ever(?) been a male equivalent of Fräulein, I'd concede your point. But there isn't and wasn't. Commented Jun 4, 2011 at 14:07
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    @jae I fully agree and this is off-topic, but it might be of historic interest that there has been a male equivalent of mademoiselle in French (which tellingly fell out of use long ago).
    – Phira
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 19:56
  • @JürgenA.Erhard there was the exact equivalent. And it was used as an appellation. It is of course the Junker, for which Grimm defines as the first meaning JUNKER, m. puer, adolescens nobilis!
    – Ludi
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 17:56

If the woman is young (max 30 years based on appearances) you can call her Fräulein! Depends on who you're calling. Also, women like to be considered younger than they are so as long as you don't use it on older women it shouldn't be a problem. Words aren't usually rude, depends on the people who are interpreting them!

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    I would set that age limit to 20 based on appearances.
    – fifaltra
    Commented Jan 3, 2014 at 0:35
  • but only if she doesn't wear a wedding ring ;)
    – user1690
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 12:53

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