Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we're in a wedding mood and wondering about fiancé, fiancée and “my betrothed”.
Q: Hi AWC, I just got engaged on the weekend and was wondering what we call each other now. Is it “fiancé” or “fiancée” or simply “my betrothed”?
A: Wait, what? You got ENGAGED?
Q: Oh, yes.
A: How are we only hearing about this in a question about word choice?
Q: Well, we don’t really hang out much outside of these conversations. I figured someone would have told you…
A: Right. Well, okay. Congratulations.
Q: Yes, thanks. Anyway, can you come to the party?
A: Of course, we’d be honoured. Good on you for saving money on invitations.
Q: Oh. This is awkward. I meant can you come to the party on an answer to my dilemma? Over which word to use?
A: So, when two people become engaged, there is indeed a generic term of “betrothed” – a noun and adjective used for both parties. For example, “the man to whom I am betrothed” or “my betrothed will meet me at the cake shop”…
Q: Sounds very old-fashioned.
A: That’s because it’s old – dating back to the late 1500s.
Q: What about “fiancée”? Or is it “fiancé”?
A: The terms “fiancée” and “fiancé” arrived in the mid-1800s – from the French for “to trust or confide”. They are nouns, and a “fiancée” is an engaged woman, while a “fiancé” is an engaged man.
Q: Oh, wow. I didn’t realise there was a difference based on male and female.
A: There is.
Q: Do you have an easy way to remember which is which?
A: You could think of the “e”s as rings. A woman traditionally ends up with two (engagement and wedding band) while a man wears just one (wedding band).
Q: Nice! So when she was engaged, Beyoncé was the fiancée, and Jay-Z was the fiancé, yeah?
A: That’s right. Nice rhyming.
Q: I also see people write the words without the acute accent above the “e”. i.e. “fiancee” and “fiance”. What’s the deal with this?
A: Either way is fine. When the words migrated to English from French, many chose to drop the acute accents over time, similar to a word like “résumé” or “café” – it’s basically a style thing.
Q: Do you think that the people who don’t use acute accents are only doing that because they can’t find the keyboard shortcut?
A: You might be onto something there. But either way is accepted. Fairfax Stylebook does without; others with. Just be consistent.
Q: When my aunt Shelby was looking for a fiancé and she would only marry someone with a cute accent.
A: Did she find someone?
Q: She and Uncle Luigi are very happy.
Q: And “finance” is not related to “fiancé” or “fiancée”?
A: It might look similar, and it has French origins, but apart from needing to have your finances in order for a wedding, there is no connection.
Q: Good to know.
A: Congratulations again on the engagement, by the way.
Q: Thanks. And sorry about not telling you.
A: That’s okay. We’re fine with it. Really.
Q: Cool. It’s just that things have just been so busy lately, especially since the baby arrived…
A: Wait, what??
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!