"Dear" in British English


When a British English speaker refers to somebody he/she has never met before as "dear" (like for example in "thank you, dear"), should "dear" be considered as some synonyme of "madam", neutral tool to express politeness, or is it used to express some sort of sympathy towards the person? 

asked Jan 10 '13 at 02:04 Simona Mikelionyte New member

3 answers


I can't speak for British English, but in American English the addition of "dear" would be considered a tool to express politeness (and a certain feigned familiarity toward the receipient). It is not neutral, but directed toward a female. It is not a synonym for "madame" as it contains no bias toward the age or marital status of the receipient -- it could equally be used with a young girls or older woman. In American English, madame is excessively formal, somewhat archaic, and pressumes the woman is "of a certain age.

link comment answered Jan 10 '13 at 05:07 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

Dear is a term of affection, endearment, or familiarity.  Some people only use the term for people that they actually have affection for, others use it for anyone.  The intention could be politeness, but I wouldn’t call it sympathy. 


I have to disagree with Jeff on one point.  I find that the term is used equally toward a male or a female. 


This and similar words (hon, doll, babe, sweetie) are often used by people in service industries (waitress, hairdresser) toward all customers in attempt to create a sense of familiarity.  They hope to get a bigger tip, but some of their customers may take offense.  I’ve known more than one salesman who referred to everyone as “friend” the moment they met.  

link comment answered Jan 10 '13 at 05:28 Patty T Grammarly Fellow

There are several informative replies to a similar question, including many which discuss the use of "dear" in British English, here: http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/8203/using-dear-darling-or-honey-to-address-a-friend

link comment answered Jan 10 '13 at 07:42 Shawn Mooney Expert

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