My significant other is in the family way. I will become a father soon.

I'd like to know if I can use the word "significant other" instead of "wife" in a sentence. Is there any difference between "significant" and "wife"?

  • "significant other" is used when you are not married to your partner. "wife" generally means you are married. – user3169 Feb 24 '16 at 6:39
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    To say someone is "in a X way" can be understandable as saying "in the mood for X" or "wants X", but is fairly uncommon. And in this case "My significant other is in the family way" is very close to "My significant other is in the family's way". The second would mean that she is an obstruction to your family somehow, stopping them from doing what they want to do. If your writing is not generally at a high level of language use where "in the family way" would be obviously-intentional creative use of wording, you should probably use something else. – HostileFork says dont trust SE Feb 24 '16 at 6:51
  • @user3169 - Not always the case. Sometimes "significant other" is used as a catch-all. For example, if our office is having an annual picnic, the announcement might read: "No children, please, but feel free to bring your significant other." That way, married women can bring their husbands, married men can bring their wives, and unmarried employees can invite along a boyfriend or girlfriend, and all of that is neatly summed up in just two words. – J.R. Feb 24 '16 at 10:22
  • Can I use "better half" for "wife" instead of "significant other "? Thanks. – yethu Feb 24 '16 at 13:20
  • @Yethu: YES INDEED! The problem with using "significant other" and "in the family way" in the same sentence is that the first term is a relatively new idiomatic usage that's only been around a few decades, whereas the second is becoming a rather "dated" usage. Which isn't to say you should avoid it, but there's something of a "generation gap" when you use both idioms together. On the other hand, "better half" shares that same sense of being "dated / facetious" (but still "usable" in many contexts), so it fits much better with "in the family way". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 24 '16 at 14:24

Significant other (and it's always used with the "other" in this context, never just "significant") is often used to genericize words like husband, wife, boyfriend, and girlfriend. Significant other is a good substitute when one of those words wouldn't cover all possible situations. For example, suppose someone asks on a quilting forum:

Does anyone else have a husband who gets angry when pieces of fabric are left all over the house?

Perhaps quilting is a predominantly female activity, but there are men who quilt. Married men might feel excluded from that question, thinking, "Well, I don't have a husband who gets angry, but my wife sure gets irritated about that every now and then." So, an easy way to rectify this is to use SO in place of husband:

Does anyone else have a significant other who gets angry when pieces of fabric are left all over the house?

Now, the unmarried male quilter with a live-in girlfriend is free to answer, "Yes, my girlfriend gets peeved about this all the time."

I don't think your example is a very good fit for this term; you'd be better off talking about your wife. Save significant other for cases where more than one word might apply, and you want to capture all the possible situations in one concise term.

So, I might say:

My wife thinks I spend too much time on the Stack Exchange.

but if I'm wanting other people to put themselves in my shoes, I might reword that:

My SO thinks I spend too much time on the Stack Exchange. Can anyone else relate?

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You can use 'spouse' to mean either a husband or a wife. That word will cover the situations of a married couple regardless of gender.

'Significant other' works the same as 'spouse' but as said earlier it covers not just married people but other relationships, like people living together without intent of marrying. It also may refer to a same-sex person so this term will not discriminate against homosexuals in a place where homosexuals cannot legally marry.

In a hospital where a woman is giving birth to a baby, she is usually accompanied by her significant other to the delivery room. If she has no romantic relationship at the time of birth, her significant other for the purposes of the hospital might be a friend or her mother.

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  • I would never refer to my Mom or my friend as my "significant other". I always interpret that as a romantic relationship. – ColleenV parted ways Feb 24 '16 at 14:10
  • What @ColleenV said. Referring to your mother or a friend with whom you don't gave a "romantic / sexual" relationship as your "significant other" would almost never occur even as a facetious usage (and in any other context it would be downright incorrect). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 24 '16 at 14:31
  • I think it's context-dependent. If a hospital told an expecting mother, "Only one significant other is allowed in the delivery room," that wouldn't exclude the woman's mom. (That may be an unusual exception to the scope of an "SO", but I can imagine some rare instances where an SO might be someone other than a romantic interest.) – J.R. Feb 24 '16 at 15:20
  • @J.R. I have never heard anyone refer to someone other than their partner as their "significant other". The definition of SO as "the most influential other person in the patient's world." is limited to psychology I think. Colloquially it's most commonly taken to mean a long term romantic partner and it would be a little tricky for a non-native speaker to navigate using 'significant other' for a different type of relationship. – ColleenV parted ways Feb 25 '16 at 21:39
  • @ColleenV - I think we are in agreement. Generally speaking, an SO is a partner, lover, spouse (or some combination thereof). Using it for something other than that would require a highly specialized context, such as the one I outlined in my comment, where the hospital uses the term, and the meaning is subsequently bent. (I think that's what Pablo meant by "for the purposes of the hospital" in this answer.) The patient wouldn't use SO to refer to mom or dad on their own accord. – J.R. Feb 25 '16 at 22:46

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