Fiancé vs. Fiancée

Much debate and change surrounds the terms fiancé and fiancée in the recent past. English speakers borrowed these gendered terms from the French in the mid-19th century, importing both the masculine (fiancé) and feminine (fiancée). This term ultimately derives from Latin, fidare literally meaning “to trust,” combined with the suffix -ance, which is used to form nouns from existing verbs.

But which form should you use, and when? Traditionally, the masculine form fiancé is used to describe an engaged man, while the feminine form fiancée is used to describe an engaged woman. Pronunciation of both fiancé and fiancée is identical.

The debate over fiancé concerns the borrowed French gender differentiations (the same issue arises with the borrowed French terms blond and blonde). Because English doesn’t have word endings that connote gender, the need to mark the gender of engaged people (or fair-haired people) often seems irrelevant to modern English speakers, especially in light of same-sex marriages and increasing awareness of non-binary gender roles.

Even outside the realm of same-sex marriages, there seems to be an increasing use of fiancé as the unmarked form for both a man and a woman. But as we may expect, this use may be subject to criticism, especially for those who speak a language in which masculine and feminine forms are distinguished from one another.

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