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Are female officers called sir?

When addressing female officers in the military, the appropriate term to use is “ma’am” rather than “sir”. This applies across all branches of the U.S. armed forces including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard.

Why Female Officers Are Called Ma’am

“Ma’am” is the term used to address female officers in the military as a sign of respect. “Sir” is reserved only for addressing male officers. This follows the traditional etiquette for addressing women and men.

Using “ma’am” shows proper military protocol and acknowledges the officer’s rank. Just as male officers earn the title of “sir”, female officers earn the title of “ma’am” when they reach officer status.

When to Use Ma’am

“Ma’am” is used when addressing a female officer in the following situations:

  • Greeting them (“Good morning, Ma’am”)
  • Answering their questions (“Yes, Ma’am” or “No, Ma’am”)
  • Acknowledging an order or instruction (“Yes, Ma’am, I’ll get right on that”)

It is proper etiquette to address them as “ma’am” or their officer rank such as Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel, etc. The only exception is if they specifically request otherwise.

Answering Questions from a Female Officer

When a female officer asks you a direct question, the proper responses are:

  • “Yes, Ma’am”
  • “No, Ma’am”
  • “No excuse, Ma’am”

Replying with just “yes” or “no” is not acceptable. Always include “ma’am” to acknowledge their rank and show respect.

Addressing a Group of Officers

If addressing a mixed group of male and female officers, use the term “ladies and gentlemen”. Refer to the male officers as “sir” and the female officers as “ma’am” as needed.


The only exception where it is acceptable not to address a female officer as “ma’am” is if she specifically requests it. For example, if she asks to be called by her first name only. Or she may indicate she prefers not to be addressed as “ma’am”. Aside from those exceptions, protocol dictates addressing female officers as “ma’am”.

Consequences of Using Sir for a Female Officer

There can be consequences to using the wrong term of address for a female officer in the military. These include:

  • Disciplinary action or reprimand
  • Poor performance review or evaluation
  • Demotion or loss of rank
  • Formal counseling or corrective training
  • Extra duties or detail assignments

Depending on the officer and the situation, the consequences can range from verbal reprimand to more severe formal punishment. Continually ignoring protocol could stall one’s military career.


Addressing female military officers with “ma’am” shows respect, acknowledges their rank, and follows proper protocol. The only exception is if an officer specifically requests alternate terms of address. Using “sir” for a female officer is inappropriate and may result in disciplinary action. With proper etiquette, troops can avoid unnecessary corrective actions when interacting with ranking female officers.