[ wahyf ]
/ waɪf /
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See synonyms for: wife / wives / wifeless on Thesaurus.com

noun, plural wives [wahyvz]. /waɪvz/.
a married woman, especially when considered in relation to her partner in marriage.
a woman (archaic or dial., except in idioms): old wives' tale.
verb (used with or without object), wifed, wif·ing.
Rare. wive.
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Idioms about wife

    take to wife, to marry (a particular woman): He took an heiress to wife.

Origin of wife

before 900; Middle English, Old English wīf woman; cognate with Dutch wijf,German Weib,Old Norse vīf


wifedom, nounwifeless, adjectivewife·less·ness, noun

Other definitions for wife (2 of 2)


a combining form of wife, now unproductive, occurring in compound words that in general designate traditional roles or occupations of women: fishwife; goodwife; housewife; midwife.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does -wife mean?

The combining form -wife is used like a suffix to mean “wife” or, more generally, “woman.” It’s used in a variety of terms, especially in reference to professions, but it’s relatively uncommon except for in a few words.

The form -wife comes from Old English wīf, meaning “woman.” Wīf was eventually combined with mann, which was then a gender-neutral term for an adult person, to create wīfmann, the source of the modern word woman. Want to know more? Check out our Words That Use entry for -woman.

What are variants of -wife?

Just as the word wives is used as a plural form of the word wife, the ending -wives is often used as a plural form of -wife, as in midwives.

Examples of -wife

One of the most common and well-known words that uses -wife is midwife, “a person trained to assist in childbirth.” Midwife comes from Middle English midwif, which uses the equivalent form of -wife.

The form mid- here means “with, accompanying,” from Old English mid-. As we have seen, -wife means “woman.” The word elements of midwife literally translate to “accompanying woman,” but men also work as midwives, and they are also commonly referred to as midwives.

The word housewife has largely fallen out of general use (other than in the titles of some TV shows) due to a history of sometimes being used in a way considered demeaning.

What are some words that use the combining form -wife?


What is a basic definition of wife?

A wife is a married woman.

The word wife is often used when a woman’s marital status is important to the current topic. For example, a man might explain to a salesperson that he is  looking for a present for his wife, which is a lot more helpful than saying he is buying a gift for “a woman.”

The plural of wife is wives. A man who is married is called a husband. A woman whose marital partner has died is called a widow.

  • Real-life examples: Queen Isabella I of Castille was the wife of King Ferdinand II of Aragon. King Henry VIII infamously had six wives (but one at a time!). If you are married to a woman, then she is your wife.
  • Used in a sentence: My uncle has never been married and says he has no interest in finding a wife.  

Sometimes, a modifier is used with wife to be more specific about a woman’s marital partner.

  • Used in a sentence: The documentary explored the lives of prison wives.

Some married people prefer gender-neutral terms, such as spouse or partner. The choice is up to the people in the marriage.

Where does wife come from?

The first records of wife come from before the 900s. It comes from the Old English word wīf, meaning “woman.” It is related to the Dutch wijf, the German Weib, and the Old Norse vīf.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to wife?

  • wifedom (noun)
  • wifeless (adjective)
  • wifehood (noun)
  • wifelike (adjective)
  • wifely (adverb)

What are some synonyms for wife?

What are some words that share a root or word element with wife?

What are some words that often get used in discussing wife?

How is wife used in real life?

Wife is a very common word used to explain a woman’s relationship to her spouse.

Try using wife!

True or False?

The word wife is used to refer to a woman who is not married.

How to use wife in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for wife

/ (waɪf) /

noun plural wives (waɪvz)
a man's partner in marriage; a married womanRelated adjective: uxorial
an archaic or dialect word for woman
take to wife to marry (a woman)

Derived forms of wife

Word Origin for wife

Old English wīf; related to Old Norse vīf (perhaps from vīfathr veiled), Old High German wīb (German Weib)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with wife


see under wives.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.