16

I want to use a term to mean that the speaker has been recorded as the wife of X in a civil registry officially and legally.

I don't know what is the usual word to use in this case, I have searched "formal wife", but all I got is "former wife" which means "Ex-wife". As for "official wife", I found it used mostly in titles Google Search/Google Books —there wasn't enough information about its definition and meaning.

Here's where I want to use it in a dialogue between A and B:

A: This is not something to call [...] when I'm his {official/formal} wife.

B: But maybe he doesn't consider you as {official/formal} yet.


P.S. "A" got married to X in a civil registry, but they came to an agreement (while registered as lawfully wedded couples) of having a trial period to see if they are suitable to each other (I know it doesn't seem logical or sensible). As that speech occurred before the ending of the trial period, which means before deciding to continue being a married couple or having a divorce, "A" finds that she is the legal wife of X, when X probably (according to "B's" assumption) doesn't have the same point of view because of the trial period.


So, what is the usual term to use in this case? Is it "formal wife", "official wife" or something else?

  • 26
    It doesn't make sense. A is either someone's wife or she is not. The term husband or wife, used alone, implies officiality. If a couple are merely living together without having gone through a form of legal marriage, each may be called the "common law" husband or wife of the other. I suppose you could call her his "legal wife", but it would sound odd to Western ears. As Ben Voigt notes: being officially married is a matter of legal fact, and does not depend on a man's opinion (what he "considers"). – Michael Harvey May 19 at 21:33
  • 4
    I can see the problem raised by OP occurring in instances when a foreign couple, possibly refugees, arrive in a country declaring themselves to be married, but either without the documentation to prove it or with documents that are not accepted by the authorities, particularly if they have been married under some religious rite. – Ronald Sole May 19 at 22:13
  • 4
    Which culture does this legal-trial-wife concept come from, and what is it called in other languages? – curiousdannii May 20 at 3:24
  • 2
    @curiousdannii _ This is not a particular tradition, nor it is related to any culture. It is just a deal that I have made up in a story. – Tasneem ZH May 20 at 5:29
  • 21
    If you’re inventing things for a story, a better place to ask for a strategy to introduce concepts like this to your readers might be Worldbuilding or Writing (although check to make sure it’s on-topic, I am not certain). Naming things or coming up with new terminology is out of scope for ELL, and you may not get the sort of answer you’re looking for. – ColleenV May 20 at 12:04

11 Answers 11

13

If what's important here is not the exact way it's written, but to have dialog that sounds more natural in this convoluted scenario, this is how I would write it:

A: This is not something to call [...] when I'm officially his wife.

B: But maybe he doesn't really consider you his wife yet.

Why use adverbs instead of adjectives? Because we skip the whole "is that really a term/thing?" problem and instead emphasize the perception of the characters. If you want to add more emphasis on the absurdity/weirdness of the scenario, you can even put the bolded words above in quotes.

  • 1
    Similar enough to the answer I was going to give that I won't add one myself, but I'd suggest going further and dropping "officially his" from A's line, and pulling the official modifier into B.... A: "... when I'm his wife."/ B: "But maybe he doesn't really consider the marriage official yet." – Mr.Mindor May 20 at 14:56
67

In contemporary English the word "wife" by itself carries the meaning of an official legal wife, and no other modifier or adjective is needed. If you wanted to be explicit you could say "legal wife", but it's really not necessary. The only time I'd expect to hear it is discussions of polygamous or polyamorous families where only one woman can be considered the legal wife by law.

In Anglo culture there is the idea of a trial period, but it takes place before the wedding. We call this the "engagement" period, and the couple are call each other their fiancé (male)/fiancée (female). There is no concept of a trial period after a legal wedding, so there is no terminology to use for such an arrangement.

  • 5
    In English-speaking groups where polygamy is practiced, they are called "sister-wives". Theoretically they have equal status, but one will be the senior wife. Historically, in hierarchical polygamous cultures the wives would be numbered "number one wife" and so on. – RedSonja May 20 at 10:19
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    Well, 'unconsummated' used to imply a trial period of sorts. – Strawberry May 20 at 11:13
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    I disagree with this in this particular context. The speaker is looking to emphasize the point of being legally married in a dialogue. – Lambie May 20 at 19:02
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    @Lambie Read the first sentence. There is no "legal" vs "illegal" or "not legal" wife. You are either the wife or not the wife. End of story. Stating someone is your wife implies you are legally married or common-law (also a legal term, see this). – JeffC May 20 at 19:26
  • 1
    Certainly in recent years before same-sex marriage (or even same-sex common law marriage) was legalized, same-sex couples used the terms "husband" and "wife" within partnerships that were assumed to be permanent and which may or may not have had a commitment ceremony (some of which were recognized by a religious denomination). So no, it's not always a statement or legal status. – Canadian Yankee May 21 at 0:17
20

Partly jokingly, we could say 'lawful wedded wife', which was a phrase used in the marriage service of the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer and possibly other churches. (Some people very jokingly say 'awful wedded wife'!)

16

It looks like you are inventing a type of marriage. There isn't - and cannot be - a 'usual term' to describe something that you have invented.

In Australia, de facto is a term used for what seems the opposite of your situation, namely where people are carrying on as if married (including mortgages, kids etc), but haven't been to a registry/ceremony to officially tie the knot. In this case she would be the de facto wife and he, the de facto husband.

You also mention in comments that this is for a story. Maybe the worldbuilders could come up with some suggestions for you. In that vein, I would consider making up a term to go with your invented scenario. Something like 'testwedded' or 'maybetrothed'.

  • 1
    No, there is no invention here. Only emphasis. – Lambie May 20 at 19:12
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    ...but they came to an agreement (while registered as lawfully wedded couples) of having a trial period to see if they are suitable to each other. The trial period (ie engagement, betrothal) is before the marriage. Marriage itself is advertised as a 'till death us do part' proposition - not something you take for a test drive. It seems a lot like invention to me. – mcalex May 21 at 1:57
9

A is either someone's wife or she is not. The term husband or wife, used alone, implies officiality. If a couple are merely living together without having gone through a form of legal marriage, each may be called the "common law" husband or wife of the other. I suppose you could call her his "legal wife", but it would sound odd to Western ears. As Ben Voigt notes: being officially married is a matter of legal fact, and does not depend on a man's opinion (what he "considers").

  • 2
    In the UK the term "common law wife/husband" has no legal standing. Often the term "partner" is used. There is also a "civil partnership" where the couple have registered their partnership for legal (inheritance for example) purposes. It only applies to same sex couples, but this is currently contentious with mixed couples wanting civil partnerships. – Peter Jennings May 20 at 0:05
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    Something that doesn't sound odd to Western ears is "lawful wedded wife." No idea what that really indicates, because as you say, she's either his wife or she isn't, so why the extra words? But it's part of the stereotypical cliche of wedding vows. – Lorel C. May 20 at 0:08
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    @LorelC. “Lawfully wedded.” It’s an a adjectival phrase that means the wedding was legal and properly officiated. – CodeGnome May 20 at 2:17
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    @TasneemZH: The husband may or may not consider her to be his soulmate, true love, etc, but official/formal/legal are a matter of government records, not opinion. – Ben Voigt May 20 at 2:37
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    @DavidRicherby Assault and battery are two separate things. To assault somebody is to attempt battery upon them. Assault = throwing the punch. Battery = making contact with the face. Often, it's a singular act, however, as in my example, which is why they might be charged together as a single crime. (This is all for California; other jurisdictions may tweak it a bit.) – David May 20 at 17:01
4

Not quite English, but in the Philippines that would be “The Legal Wife”. Also the name of a TV series.

2

Stick with "Husband" and "Wife" for the full, legally married terms.

However, the "pre-marriage contract" you are attempting to (re)invent for your story is a betrothal. The people thus joined are each others' "betrothed".

A betrothal was a semi-binding contract, typically with "exit" clauses for both parties. Sometimes - typically among nobility - a betrothal contract formed part of a joining of families or businesses (e.g. King A turns to King B: "I say, old chap. In a spot of bother here, minor disagreement with King C. Could use some help putting the blighter back in his place. If you were willing to lend an army or two... Well, your son's eye has been roving, and my daughter is of marriageable age now. What do you say, dear chum?")

As for your "trial marriage" aspect?

In some historical cultures (including colonial North America), the betrothal was essentially a trial marriage, with marriage only being required in cases of conception of a child.
Wikipedia

  • "Stick with "Husband" and "Wife"..."—capitalized or not? – Tasneem ZH May 20 at 21:34
  • 3
    @TasneemZH That would depend entirely on whether you were using it as a proper or common noun within each particular context. "She is my wife.", or "Honestly, Husband - I'm not property! Just say that we're married." – Chronocidal May 20 at 21:42
  • A reminder to down-voters: The only reason not to comment and explain why you are down-voting is when there is already a comment explaining your criticism (which I would advise you up-vote). Answers cannot be improved without constructive criticism – Chronocidal May 24 at 7:57
1

The two are already married on paper.

Btw. the reverse case happens all the time. People get married without going to the registry office - they have a big party, perform the required rites at their local place of worship and then they are considered husband and wife for all purposes that matter to their community. It is just in places with a sufficiently strong bureaucratic tradition that a piece of paper with an official stamp is more important than anything else.

  • 3
    At least in the US and UK, provided that such people obtained a marriage license before the wedding, their marriage is as official and legal as any marriage can be. The religious officiant acts as an agent of the state, in addition to his or her religious role. If no license was obtained, what they have is not a legal marriage, indeed it has no legal effect at all. Many people would not consider a couple married at all in such a case (no license). – David Siegel May 20 at 19:45
  • But certainly if you marry in a catholic church, the whole church organization (and god) will consider you married? That looks like quite a lot of people. – Jan May 21 at 6:08
  • @Jan True, but depending on your country either A) the Priest will be a legal registrar, and will provide you with a valid marriage certificate after the ceremony (for example, in the UK) or B) the Priest will not conduct the ceremony without evidence that you have procured a marriage certificate from the registrars' office (for example, in Brazil) – Chronocidal May 21 at 8:28
  • In Germany, it is neither A nor B. Source (only in German): arag.de/service/infos-und-news/rechtstipps-und-gerichtsurteile/… – Jan May 21 at 10:25
1

In legal contexts, one can say: legal wife versus common-law wife.

  • But I am his legal wife. [a character might say]

That means I married him under the law.

In a dialogue, here, we'd say legally married or legal wife.

Civil registry in AmE is vital records office. Civil registry is used in English sometimes but it is inevitably a translation from French or Spanish, etc.

A: That's not something to call [...] when I'm his wife, legally. or: when I'm legally his wife.

B: But maybe he doesn't see you as his legal wife yet. or: as legally married yet.

  • 4
    "Wife" and "common-law wife" (where common-law marriage is outlined) are both terms that describe the same legal state... married. See the wikipedia article. is a legal framework in a limited number of jurisdictions where a couple is legally considered married, without that couple having formally registered their relation as a civil or religious marriage – JeffC May 20 at 19:36
  • You state, "In a dialogue, here"... where is here? The US or elsewhere? I've lived in the US all my life and never heard anyone make these distinctions. – JeffC May 20 at 19:39
  • @JefffC If the character were to say: "But maybe he doesn't see you as his wife yet" sounds understated in this context. The speaker is looking to emphasize the legal status of being a wife, which is what my rewrite does specifically. You must be a lawyer, but not a writer. That's the whole point of the question. Google: legally his wife. – Lambie May 21 at 22:55
1

If you are married, but not together anymore (either temporarily or permanently), then you are separated.

See for example Different Types of Separation: Trial, Permanent, and Legal Separation and also legal separation.

-2

Disclaimer

Attention: My answer is not officially recognized in any textbook or by any english language scholars.

I admit that my answer manipulates the rules of english to conform to a specific style of writing used by very small group of authors and scholars.

If you use my answer in any other context besides creative writing or poetry, your usage will be judged incorrect.

You have been warned!

However, despite my warnings, do not be afraid to hack the rules of the english language to enhance communication with your audience.

Answer

For your specific question, I suggest that you capitalize the word wife to indicate the meaning has transitioned from a common noun into a title or archetype, i.e. Wife.

I recommend Wife to subtly emphasize her focus on being addressed in the proper manner because she is not his wife but the ruler of his heart.

She believes she is not a queen but the Queen of his heart.

Therefore, her role is not that of his wife but his Wife.

The other character corrects her misconception that they exchanged something of greater value than what is written in their marriage license.

A: This is not something to call [...] when I'm his Wife.

B: You may be lawfully wed to him, but no law can force his heart to contract that you are his Wife.

You could summarize this subtlety as a footnote for readability to help your readers understand your logic without interrupting the dialogue.

A: This is not something to call [...] when I'm his Wife1.

B: You may be lawfully wed to him, but no law can force his heart to contract that you are his Wife.

1 She believes she is not a queen but the Queen of his heart. Therefore, her role is not that of his wife but his Wife.

Thank you for asking such an interesting question!

~ Melioratus

  • 1
    This is an interesting way of putting it, but can you explain the difference between the words in each version? I think I understand "wife" and "Wife", but I'm not sure about the other ones. – Tasneem ZH May 20 at 17:51
  • 1
    Thanks for asking for clarification! I'll add clarification to my examples. – Melioratus May 20 at 18:12
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    This isn't a standard English use of capitalisation: the examples of queen and joker are varieties of proper name. The example of internet is specific to certain technical uses, and most ordinary uses wouldn't make a distinction between the capitalised and not. – jonathanjo May 20 at 18:16
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    @Melioratus I'm sure some people do use this method, but I wouldn't recommend that method on English Learners Stack Exchange. Most people consider it wrong to capitalise nouns just because they refer to a specific thing; indeed, many style guides and other authorities also reject this notion. "Life" is never capitalised. "Evil" is never capitalised. "God" and "the Devil" really only get capitalised in religious contexts. "Death" is only capitalised when referring to the entity known as "Death", aka "The Grim Reaper". – user45266 May 20 at 23:24
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    @Melioratus Sure, when those words become archetypes (like "Hero"), it might be okay, if a little old-fashioned, to capitalise. But those are edge cases. "Wife" is never capitalised. Neither is "Husband", except possibly in legal documents. My point is that no one really uses capitalisation to convey the specificity or abstractification. Bob the Builder is a builder, not a Builder. People are lawyers, not Lawyers. If I went to the doctor, I'd be the doctor's patient, not the Doctor's Patient. – user45266 May 20 at 23:28

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