AskDefine | Define wife

The Collaborative Dictionary

Wife \Wife\, n.; pl. Wives. [OE. wif, AS. wif; akin to OFries. & OS. wif, D. wijf, G. weib, OHG. w[imac]b, Icel. v[imac]f, Dan. viv; and perhaps to Skr. vip excited, agitated, inspired, vip to tremble, L. vibrare to vibrate, E. vibrate. Cf. Tacitus, [" Germania" 8]: Inesse quin etiam sanctum aliquid et providum putant, nec aut consilia earum aspernantur aut responsa neglegunt. Cf. Hussy a jade, Woman.] [1913 Webster]
A woman; an adult female; -- now used in literature only in certain compounds and phrases, as alewife, fishwife, goodwife, and the like. " Both men and wives." --Piers Plowman. [1913 Webster] On the green he saw sitting a wife. --Chaucer. [1913 Webster]
The lawful consort of a man; a woman who is united to a man in wedlock; a woman who has a husband; a married woman; -- correlative of husband. " The husband of one wife." --1 Tin. iii.
[1913 Webster] Let every one you . . . so love his wife even as himself, and the wife see that she reverence her husband. --Eph. v.
[1913 Webster] To give to wife, To take to wife, to give or take (a woman) in marriage. Wife's equity (Law), the equitable right or claim of a married woman to a reasonable and adequate provision, by way of settlement or otherwise, out of her choses in action, or out of any property of hers which is under the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery, for the support of herself and her children. --Burrill. [1913 Webster]

Word Net

wife n : a married woman; a man's partner in marriage [syn: married woman] [ant: husband] [also: wives (pl)]

Moby Thesaurus

better half, bride, common-law wife, concubine, consort, dowager, feme, feme covert, goodwife, goody, helpmate, helpmeet, lady, married woman, mate, matron, old lady, old woman, other half, rib, spouse, squaw, wedded wife, woman



  • /waɪf/, /waIf/
  • Rhymes with: -aɪf


wif, from . Cognate with Dutch wijf, German Weib.


  1. A married woman.
  2. The female of a pair of mated animals.
    A new wife for the gander is introduced into the pen.
  3. In the context of "Geordie|dialect": A woman (compare old wife and aad wife).

Usage notes

The singular possessive is wife's, as in "My wife's mother is my mother-in-law."



Derived terms


married woman


New Geordie Dictionary 1987}}



A wife is a female spouse, or participant in a marriage, or civil union or civil partnership.

Origin and etymology

The term originated from the Middle English wif, from Old English wīf, woman, wife, from Germanic * wībam, woman, related to Modern German Weib (woman, wife), from the Indo-European root ghwībh-; wīb, meaning veiled or clothed, referred to the wedding veils.. The original meaning of “wife” as simply “woman”, unconnected with marriage, is preserved in words like “midwife” and “fishwife”.

Related terminology

Although “wife” seems to be a close term to bride, the latter is a female participant in a wedding ceremony, while a wife is a married woman after the wedding, during her marriage. Her partner, if male, was known as the bridegroom during the wedding, and within the marriage is called her husband. Upon marriage, she or her family may have brought her husband a dowry, or the husband or his family may have needed to pay a bride price to the family of his bride, or both were exchanged between the families; the dowry not only supported the establishment of a household, but also served as a condition that if the husband committed grave offences upon his wife, the dowry had to be returned to the wife or her family; for the time of the marriage, they were made inalienable by the husband. A former wife whose spouse is deceased is a widow, and may be left with a dower (often a third or a half of his estate) to support her as dowager.
Wife refers especially to the institutionalized form in relation to the spouse and offspring, unlike mother, a term that puts a woman into the context of her children. Also compare the similar sounding midwife, a person assisting in childbirth (“Mother midnight” emphasizes to a midwife’s power over life and death).
A wife may, in some cultures and times, share the title of her husband, without having gained that title by her own right.

Differences in cultures

The various divisions of the following chapters share the previous terminology in English language, notwithstanding religious and cultural, but also customary differences.


Many traditions like the wedding ring and a dower, dowry and bride price have long traditions in antiquity. The exchange of any item or value goes back unto the oldest sources, and the wedding ring likewise was always used as a symbol for keeping faith to a person.


Historical status

Christianity or, more generally, Western culture, that is Western Europe and also many of their former colonies, were guided by the Bible in regard to their view on the position of a wife in society as well as her marriage. This image changed considerably in the age of Modernity.
In the Middle Ages and Early Modern history, it was unusual to marry out of love, though it became an ideal in literature. Women were not expected to have any property: they only were given a dowry by their parents to give her husband and inherited only if there were no male offspring. Unable to procure for herself, a woman had to submit to the husband chosen to avoid problems (prostitution, or a criminal career,), which has been dealt with extensively in literature, where the most important reason for the lack of equal rights was the denial of equal education for women. The situation was assessed by the English conservative moralist Sir William Blackstone: “The husband and wife are one, and the husband is the one.” The situation changed only in the Married Women’s Property Act 1882. Though the wife was generally expected to support the political faction favoured by the husband, satirists like Joseph Addison suggested ironically that the marriage contract might allow the wives to join the political faction independently in order to suit the expectations of their environment, or their peer group. Until late in the 20th century, women could in some cultures or times sue a man for wreath money when he took her virginity without taking her as his wife.
If a woman did not want to marry, another option was entering a convent as a nun to become a “bride to Jesus”, a state in which her chastity would be protected and the woman was economically protected as well. Both a wife and a nun wore veils, which proclaimed their state of protection by the rights of marriage.

Contemporary status

In the 20th century, the role of the wife in Western marriage changed in two major ways; the first was the breakthrough from an “institution to companionate marriage”; for the first time, wives became distinct legal entities, and were allowed their own property and allowed to sue. Until then, wife and husband were a single legal entity, but only the husband was allowed to exercise this right. The second change was the drastic alteration of family life, when in the 1960s wives began to work outside their home, and with the social acceptance of divorces the single-parent family, and stepfamily or “blended family” as a more “individualized marriage”.
Today, a woman may wear a wedding ring in order to show her status as a wife.
In Western countries today, married women may have education, a profession and take time off from their work in a legally procured system of ante-natal care, statutory maternity leave, and they may get maternity pay or a maternity allowance. The status of marriage, as opposed to unmarried pregnant women, allows the spouse to be responsible for the child, and to speak on behalf of his/her wife; a husband is also responsible for the wife’s child in states where he is automatically assumed to be the biological father. Vice versa, a wife has more legal authority in some cases when she speaks on behalf of a spouse than she would have if they were not married, e.g. when her spouse is in a coma after an accident, a wife may have the right of advocacy. If they divorce, she also might receive - or pay - alimony (see Law and divorce around the world).


Women in Islam general are supposed to wear specific clothes, as stated by the hadith, like the hijab, which may take different sizes depending on the Muslim culture, but they are not obliged to do so. The husband must pay a mahr,"[$ Money} to the bride, which is similar to the dower.
wife means a women who shares every thing in this world with her husband and he does the same, including their identity. Decisions are ideally made in mutual consent. A wife usually takes care of anything inside her household, including the family’s health, the children’s education, a parent’s needs.


In Hindi, wife means a women who shares every thing in this world with her husband and he does the same, including their identity. Decisions are ideally made in mutual consent. A wife usually takes care of anything inside her household, including the family’s health, the children’s education, a parent’s needs.
In Tamil, a wife is known as a “Manaivee”. “Manai” means “house”, and “manaivee” “head of a household”. The majority of Hindu marriages in South India even now are arranged marriages, which means parents that have a son will search for parents with a daughter, through relatives, neighbourhoods, or even brokers. Once they find a suitable family (family of same caste, culture and financial status), they proceed with discussions directly. In the past decades, a marriage out of love has become a rivalling model to the arranged marriage.
Indian law has recognised marital rape, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse of a woman by her husband as crimes. The Britannica mentions that “Until quite recently, the only property of which a Hindu woman was the absolute owner was her strīdhana, consisting mainly of wedding gifts and gifts from relatives.”
Commonly, a wife wears a red dot on her forehead to show her status as a married woman.

Buddhism and Chinese folk religions

China’s family laws were changed by the Communist revolution; and in 1950, the People’s Republic of China enacted a comprehensive marriage law including provisions giving the spouses equal rights with regard to ownership and management of marital property.


In Japan, before enactment of the Meiji Civil Code of 1898, all of the woman’s property such as land or money passed to her husband except for personal clothing and a mirror stand.

See also


wife in Breton: Gwreg
wife in Welsh: Gwraig
wife in German: Ehefrau
wife in Indonesian: istri
wife in Icelandic: Eiginkona
wife in Japanese: 妻
wife in Russian: Жена
wife in Simple English: Wife
wife in Tamil: மனைவி
wife in Ukrainian: Дружина (жінка)
wife in Yiddish: ווייב
wife in Chinese: 妻子
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