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"He gave her a ring while proposing her for marriage."

This sentence feels long winded. I am sure there's a more idiomatic way to say this. Is there? I am looking for an idiom a native speaker may use.

"He gave her a ring to propose her for marriage."

"He gave her a ring while bending the knee for a marriage proposal."

All these sentences sound unnatural.

3 Answers 3

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Both your first and second versions are not idiomatic, at least not in US English.

He gave her a ring while proposing marriage

He gave her a ring while proposing marriage to her

are idiomatic although awkward. What is being proposed, that is suggested, is a marriage.

Your third skews a stock phrase that is archaic in form, "on bended knee." Because it is a stock phrase, altering it sounds odd.

Some of what sounds natural relates to modern conventions involving proposals of marriage in the U.S. In a usual situation, a man offers to give a ring to a woman if she agrees to marry him; the offer and acceptance are a ceremony patterned on the old Latin phrase Do ut des: I give so that you will give. The gift is not technically made until she accepts the proposal of marriage, or, perhaps more realistically, her acceptance of the ring represents acceptance of the proposed marriage, and taking physical possession of the ring is almost always accompanied by overt words of assent to the proposed marriage.

Thus, what are more characteristic are

He proposed

He proposed by offering her an engagement ring

He proposed marriage

He proposed marriage by offering her an engagement ring

He offered her an engagement ring to propose

He offered her an engagement ring to propose marriage

On bended knee, he proposed

On bended knee, he offered her an engagement ring

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  • "Bending the knee" actually is a stock phrase. The problem is it does not have the intended meaning. It refers to humble submission to one's lord.
    – David42
    Apr 30, 2020 at 23:36
  • @David42 You are correct that "while bending the knee" is also a stock phrase. But the reason that it is not appropriate here is not meaning. It is simply that it is not a standard phrase when used with proposals of marriage. The meaning is not restricted to a gesture of submission to a male superior. One goes (or went) to one's knee when presented formally to a queen. Symbolically, the social meaning of proposing while on one knee was exactly to represent emotional submission. May 1, 2020 at 13:27
  • Yes, but I was not making a distinction between bowing to lords and bowing to ladies. My point was that a man getting on his knees to propose marriage is not acknowledging his intended as his ruler. And while I understand the possibly origins of kneeling in ideals of courtly love in which the intended is "mistress of his heart" whom he begs to command him, I can find no sign that the set phrase "bend the knee" has been used except to connote submission to a literal ruler. Thus I concluded that the accepted meaning of this expression does not fit the situation.
    – David42
    May 2, 2020 at 15:58
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    @David42 I think the main point is that we both agree on the final sentence of your most recent message. The historical development and social messaging of the two phrases is not likely to address the concern of the OP interesting as they may be to us. May 3, 2020 at 13:15
  • In the UK I don't think you'd ever use 'bend' in the context of an engagement. You'd say "he went down on one knee". Apr 26, 2021 at 11:31
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Often times instead of saying "proposing marriage" the phrase "pop the question" is used. The question being referenced is, "Will you marry me"

So if you're looking for an idiomatic way of saying that he gave the ring while proposing marriage, you could say:

"He gave her the ring while he popped the question."

This does presuppose that marriage is already being discussed in the story. Without that context, "popping the question" would sound a bit out of place.

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The first problem with "propose her for marriage" is that it does not mean what you are trying to say. To propose someone or something is to offer him or it as a candidate. For example:

I proposed Jane for the job of director.

or

I proposed adhesive tape as a temporary repair.

So the sentence:

John proposed Jane for marriage.

probably means that John has a friend who wants to marry. John tells his friend that he should consider marrying Jane.

Even if these were the circumstances, you would not say it this way. Putting "for marriage" at the end makes it sound like a clarification. John seems to be hinting to his friend that though some girls can be bedded without marrying them first, Jane is not one of them. She is "for marriage". It would be much better to say:

John proposed he marry Jane.

But all this is beside the point because what you are trying to say is:

John proposed marriage to Jane.

Note that John proposes marriage. He does not propose Jane. He proposes marriage to Jane.

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