According to Merriam Webster, better half means

the person to whom another is married.

I often see people use a word that doesn't mean the same as its literal definition. For instance:

She is my bitch that actually means She is my bestfriend. Or Sweet heart that is usually used by Mom to her kids, but I've also seen this word used by someone to his/her (boy/girl)friend.

In this case, since M-W defines this word that means the same as a spouse, can we use this word to exaggerate the way we call our (girl/boy)friend? An example a guy calls his girlfriend as his better half:

You are my better half. I can't live without you.

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    Many couples live together without being married in Western countries, and 'better half' does not always imply marriage. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 13:08
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    Sweetheart is an old-fashioned term for a romantic partner; it can also be used as an affectionate form of address for a child or pet. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 13:46
  • In my experience it is only used between married partners. If you tell someone that your GF/BF is your better half, you will be implying to your listener that you are a married couple (or a couple that considers themselves married) unless the listener is somehow cued otherwise. With that knowledge, Does it sound awkward? Sounds a bit opinion based.
    – EllieK
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 13:57
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    @EllieK - not in my experience, and not in Cambridge Dictionary - better half noun humorous - A person's better half is their husband, wife, or usual sexual partner. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 14:22
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    Your example You are my better half. I can't live without you is "unlikely". It's normally only used "[semi-]facetiously" today (similar to 'er indoors), rather than as a genuine metaphoric / poetic / literary allusion echoing Samuel Johnson's original usage from centuries ago. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


As is often the case, the dictionary definition is a little "tight" - as you suggest "better half" can, and frequently does, refer to a close partner, regardless of marital status. Usually when used in that way, it refers to a relationship that is almost equivalent to marriage, but even a casual boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is enough for it to make sense.

  • I don't believe it has been noted that this phrase is not generally used by Partner A to describe the depth of the relationship directly to Partner B. The OP's example, You are my better half...etc, is not the standard usage for this phrase. One would assume Partner B already knows this. It is more commonly used by Partner A to describe or introduce Partner B to a third party (i.e. co-worker, old friend, group of peers). Have you met my better half? This is my spouse, Pat.
    – EllieK
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 17:11

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