Fiancé vs. fiancée?

The French nouns fiancé and fiancée both describe somebody who is engaged to be married, but the word fiancée is exclusively used for women. Fiancé is traditionally used for men, but the word can also represent engaged women or non-binary partners.

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What is the difference between fiancé vs. fiancée?

The foreign words fiancé and fiancée are straight-forward when it comes to the English language because we use them to discuss one topic: marriage. Either term is gendered and adapted from the French language to describe people who are engaged. But did you know there’s a difference between the two? 

The words fiancé and fiancée belong to the French language (aka, the “language of love”). Still, they are also apart of a martial vocabulary that’s essential to learn before using fiancé or fiancée within your own writing. Let’s take a look at a few qualifying concepts to help readers who might be unfamiliar with the idea of marriage:

Marriage proposals and engagement

To become a fiancé or fiancée, one needs to formally agree to a marriage with their partner, and this agreement typically occurs through a marriage proposal. In American culture, the act of proposing occurs when somebody gets down on one knee and presents a ring and “pops the question,” as they say. If the agreement occurs, the couple is now “engaged.” 

Historically, marriage is considered a sacred transaction between a man and woman and was developed linguistically to represent a legal form of procuring women, financial security, and ensuring reproduction. In this sense, finding a fiancé or fiancée was far less about falling in love than doing one’s duty for their family. Couples were often engaged through family recommendations if they were not already related. 

In modern times, we use the term “engagement” to describe the customary period occurring after a successful proposal and before the wedding ceremony. The engagement period can last between a day, week, or even a few years, and so the time that one is a fiancé or fiancée can vary. One doesn’t become a husband or wife until they take their formal wedding vows, and so we’ve used fiancé and fiancée to emphasize the period of engagement. 

What does fiancé mean?

The word fiancé is a noun used to describe a man or person who has promised marriage to another person.

For example,

“Brandon, Simone’s fiancé, is obsessed with the Golden State Warriors.” 

Synonyms of fiancé

Betrothed, bride-to-be, companion, engaged person, fiancée, future husband, future wife, groom-to-be, husband-to-be, intended, partner, prospective spouse, significant other, steady, swain, sweetheart, wife-to-be.

What does fiancée mean?

The word fiancée is a noun used to describe a woman who has promised marriage to another person. 

For example, 

“I can’t wait to meet with my son’s fiancée, Kimberely.”

Synonyms of fiancée

Betrothed, bride-to-be, companion, engaged person, future wife, intended, partner, prospective spouse, significant other, steady, sweetheart, wife-to-be.

Why do we use fiancé and fiancée?

We use words like fiancé and fiancée while discussing engagement because they represent the promise of lifetime commitment. Fiancé and fiancée share etymological roots in the Latin term “affidare,” and it’s past-tense form “affidavit.” The words affidare or affidavit describe the act of a pledge, and affidavit is still used within law vocabulary to describe a written testimony provided under oath.

Affidare is also a root word for the Old French term affiance, which is now used in the English language to mean “to promise marriage,” or betroth (a formal marriage agreement). Affiance entered the English language from around the 14th century and long before fiancé or fiancée, which didn’t enter the English vocabulary until the 19th century. Before the words were adapted into English, French speakers used fiancé and fiancée in conjunction with the verb fiancer. The word fiancer translates to “betroth” and stems from Latin fidere (faithfulness).  

Understanding the language of love

The main difference between fiancé and fiancée is that the French word fiancé is traditionally used for men, while fiancée is only used for women. Both words translate to “the promised one,” and only differ when it comes to gender and spelling. The extra e at the end of fiancée is called a double consonant, and this is used to infer that the noun is feminine. In fact, most French words that end with the letter “e” are feminine.

There are several rules and exceptions within the French language that determine which words are feminine or masculine, but since “le fiancé is intended for men, the noun is masculine. And since the terms fiancé and fiancée are borrowed from a language built around grammatical gender, they are not spelled interchangeably in English. 

The grammatical gender of fiancé vs. fiancée

Words like fiancé and fiancée are examples of grammatical gender, which allows us to specify whether a noun is feminine, masculine, or non-gendered. Using grammatical gender is also common for languages like Spanish or German, but it’s also used for English. For example, a male poet is simply a “poet,” but a female poet is called a “poetess.” Similar to fiancé and fiancée, we can use “poet” for both men and women, but we wouldn’t use “poetess” for anyone other than a female. 

Additional examples include,

  • Host vs. hostess
  • Steward vs. stewardess
  • Actor vs. actress 
  • Waiter vs. waitress
  • Bull vs. cow

The concept of grammatical gender becomes more tricky when gendered nouns include inanimate objects like “shoe” or “boat.” For example, the French word for “shoe” is “la chaussure,” and the word for “boat” is “le bateau.” La chaussure (shoe) is feminine, and le bateau (boat) is masculine, but why this happens is somewhat arbitrary. 

It may be difficult to imagine how gendered and inanimate nouns exist in English, and that’s because we use subject and object pronouns to assign identities of objects. For example, the English word “table” is not gendered, and so we would use neuter gender pronouns like “it/its/it’s” instead of “she/her/hers” or “he/him/his.” 

There are a few exceptions in the English language where inanimate objects are assigned a gender, and this is called “metaphorical gender.” We often see this when people talk about Earth using “she” or when naming hurricanes, cars, and countries. This type of gender assignment isn’t grammatical, however, and is not the same as grammatical gender for other languages. 

Is there a gender-neutral form of fiancé or fiancée?

Fiancé is traditionally used for engaged men but is now accepted in modern English as a gender-neutral term for men, women, and gender non-conforming identities. In contrast, the word fiancée only describes an engaged woman, but this doesn’t mean it’s restricted to heteronormative relationships. When preferred, we can use the word fiancée for any female-identifying person who is engaged to be married. 

There are cases when people prefer to use the word “partner” rather than “fiancé” to avoid outdated, gendered nouns. In this way, the term “partner” has become synonymous with fiancé, fiancée, wife, husband, or even boyfriend and girlfriend. These words are all very different from each other, though, and so understanding the nature of one’s relationship is not as evident with the term “partner.” 

How to pronounce fiancé and fiancée?

If you can say the name Beyoncé, you can say the words fiancé and fiancée. Most English speakers know who Beyoncé Knowles is, and how the diacritical mark above the “é” in her name allows us to pronounce it as “bee-yon-say.Fiancé and fiancée are no different from this pronunciation either. 

The words fiancé and fiancée are pronounced the same, and the distinction between the two terms occur in writing as opposed to spoken word. Some people pronounce fiancée with an emphasis on the two-letter “e”’s (i.e., “fee-ohn-see”), but this pronunciation is incorrect.  

Fiancé and fiancée have accent marks above the first “e,” and this accent indicates to French speakers when to enunciate the “ce” in either word. In the French language, the letter “c” is pronounced like the English “s.” So, when the letters “c” and “e” are paired together, they are pronounced as “se.” When enunciated, fiancé and fiancée are pronounced “fee-ahn-say.” 

How to use fiancé vs. fiancée in a sentence?

Using the words fiancé and fiancée is easy once you know what they mean. As with any gendered term, it’s essential to look out for social cues to ensure respect. If you’re unsure, you can always use a synonym such as “partner” or “companion” instead. 

Fiancé example sentences

“I am going on vacation with my fiancé.” 
“The jacket belongs to my fiancé.”
“That’s his fiancé, Jarrod.” 
“Her fiancé is picking us up.” 

Fiancée example sentences

“He lives with his fiancée, Amy.”
“This is Jessica and her fiancée, Sarah.”
“I bought a necklace for my fiancée.” 
“We are staying at my fiancée’s parent’s house.” 

Style guides on fiancé vs. fiancée

If you’re using a professional style guide to write, there are instances where you’d omit the diacritical marks in fiancé and fiancée. For example, the Associated Press Stylebook advises members of the press to avoid using accent marks for these terms. 

The Chicago Manual of Style Online does not explicitly touch the subject of fiancé vs. fiancée, but CMS Online recommends using Merriam Webster’s Dictionary for spelling words with special characters. In our case, the online dictionary includes accent marks. 

Test Yourself!

English grammar is a commitment, and engagement is essential to learning new concepts. Challenge yourself with the following multiple-choice questions to see how well you know the difference between fiancé and fiancée.

  1. Which of the following terms is not a synonym of fiancée?
    a. Swain
    b. Fiance
    c. Intended
    d. A and B
  2. Which of the following terms is not a synonym of fiancé?
    a. Fiancee 
    b. Betrothed
    c. Groom-to-be
    d. Companion
  3. Which of the following terms is not etymologically related to fiancé/fiancée?
    a. Affidare
    b. Affidavit
    c. Betroth
    d. Fiancer
  4. True or false: fiancée is the gender-neutral form of fiancé and fiancée
    a. True 
    b. False
  5. The AP Stylebook recommends using which spelling of fiancé and fiancée?
    a. Fiancé/fiancée
    b. Fiance/fiancee
    c. A and B
    d. None of the above

Answers

  1. D
  2. C
  3. C
  4. B
  5. B

Sources

  1. Affidavit.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  2. Betrothed.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  3. Fiancé.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  4. Fiancé.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  5. Fiancé.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  6. Fiancée.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  7. Fiancer.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  8. Hornoiu, D. “The Category of Gender in Present-day English.Ovidius University Press, Diacronia.ro, 2009. 
  9. Karfis-Chevalier, C. “French Nouns Gender – Feminine Endings.” French Today, 2010. 
  10. Nouns and gender.” English Grammar Today, Cambridge Dictionary, 2020.
  11. Special Characters.” The Chicago Manual of Style Online, The University of Chicago, 2017. 
  12. Troth.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.Uglow, L. “The History of Marriage.” Thought Hub, 2017.