Q&A: Fiancé vs fiancée

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: Sure.

Q: Thanks.

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.

A: Excellent.

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!

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