If I am talking about my girl / woman, then if I'm married I can say simply "my wife". But if I'm not married what I can say?

Iv'e checked the definition for spouse, but it's for "a person's husband or wife". I understand that it's not for the one that a person live with without marriage.

Then I've checked the definition of "mate" and it's "UK informal word used as a friendly way of talking to someone, especially a man". In this word there are 2 problems: 1. it's informal. 2. it's mainly for women. It's not interchangeable between the genders.

Then I've checked the definition of "partner", and it's "the person you are married to or living with as if married to them, or the person you are having a sexual relationship with". So it seems that this the only formal one noun for referring to both genders while living without marriage ("living with as if married to them" as Cambridge says). Is that correct?

  • When not clear about the marital state, I would use "partner", since this also covers "spouse". This is particularly true in formal settings where I do not want to assume one way or another.
    – urnonav
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 22:27

4 Answers 4


The proper word to use if you are just dating, or getting to know someone is usually boyfriend or girlfriend. If you are going to get married (engaged), then you would call them your fiancé(male) or fiancée(female).


Yes, for "living with someone as if in marriage", "partner" would be a correct word.

Sometimes, when people want to sound more high-flown, they might say

"my significant other"

That would encompass the situations of living together and being in a serious relationship without specifying much of anything.


I agree with the existing answers but wanted to add a bit of information. In the 10-20 years leading up to gay marriage in the US, spouse was used by those in the know as a way of generalizing the husband/wife concept. In other words, gay people in quasi-marriages would call the partner their spouse, and out of solidarity with gay people who weren't able to get married, those in different-sex rlationships would also say "spouse."


This is really difficult territory. These days "partner" can be used to connote significant other, even if the parties are married, and is frequently so used by the parties themselves.

But partner has very many meanings and connotations. When I was a partner in a professional firm, social events were sometimes held to which "partners' partners" were invited. They couldn't invite wives or husbands, because some partners were female and some were male, and they couldn't invite just spouses because some partners were unmarried or were married to someone whom they definitely would not wish to bring to the party.

The Question is framed in terms of what "I should say". That is much easier because you can choose: girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, fiancé(male) or fiancée(female). I have certainly known couples cohabit for years as fiancés.

The problem comes when you want to refer to somebody else's paramour. There is no universal solution to that. Not even paramour, which personally I rather like. Using your wiles you just have to find out, somehow, what term would be acceptable to them.

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