What's wrong with the words "wife" and "husband"? Why do people instead use "partner" more and more often?

  • 2
    It's a cultural phenomenon. There's no purely linguistic reason.
    – TimR
    Nov 29, 2016 at 11:14
  • Some people also use spouse Nov 29, 2016 at 11:35
  • wife/husband/spouse all imply a legal union of two people, either in the eyes of the church or the eyes of the state. 'partner' on the other hand, does not necessarily, and is often used by couples who want to make that distinction.
    – mike
    Nov 29, 2016 at 11:40
  • Well, when you are a couple saying partner sounds as if you don't love each other but only do sexual stuff and discuss financial questions. Nov 29, 2016 at 11:48
  • @SovereignSun: I think you have a flawed definition. While "partner" can refer to a sexual relationship, that is not its only meaning. Consider defintions 1.2 and 1.3 here.
    – LMS
    Nov 29, 2016 at 12:03

1 Answer 1


The short answer is that it's all-inclusive - it avoids any labels of gender, marital status or sexuality.

Also, in this day and age, not all couples decide to get married (and unfortunately, in many countries, couples in homosexual relationships don't have the option to get married), so the term 'partner' can seem more appropriate to some in terms of describing the stage of the relationship. Imagine a couple from the scenario above, who can't, or chooses not to get married. Boyfriend or girlfriend can imply a less serious relationship. 'Partner' implies a more permanent state.

  • To me it sounds very impolite. Nov 29, 2016 at 11:36
  • 2
    @SovereignSun: It's perfectly normal, no impoliteness about it. There can be the implication that the partners aren't married, but otherwise it's no less polite than wife, husband, spouse, or significant other.
    – LMS
    Nov 29, 2016 at 11:39
  • 1
    @SovereignSun - I guess that's a matter of perspective, rather than a point of English.
    – mike
    Nov 29, 2016 at 13:55
  • 2
    "Impolite" in what sense? I suppose if in conversation you referred to a woman's husband as her "partner", she might object and say "No, he's not my partner, he's my husband. We're married". But if you are talking about two people who have an on-going sexual relationship but are not married, of course you can't properly call them husband and wife, so "partner" is about as polite as it gets. Presumably more polite than "the person you are living in sin with" or "your f*** buddy".
    – Jay
    Nov 29, 2016 at 14:44
  • @Jay Exactly. When they are not husband and wife ))) But I hear psychiatrists often say that to married couples and often other people. Nov 29, 2016 at 15:36

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