If you plan to get engaged or recently did so, the difference between fiancé and fiancée might be on your mind. The two words aren’t worlds apart, but there are certain discrepancies that affect their usage, pronunciation, and spelling.
To help you make the distinction and use the words properly, we’ve devised this quick guide. It touches briefly upon the etymology of the words. And there are useful tips to help you remember regarding the aforementioned usage and pronunciation.
Are you ready for some a snappy engagement grammar and vocabulary lesson?
Thank the French for Your Fiancé
There’s something in the French language that makes it sound so romantic. Some would argue that it’s because of all the soft syllables and the melody of the language. And lo and behold, English adopted a bunch of French words to express love.
Some examples include adjectives like ardent and amorous. And there’s the embrace, the French verb many fiancées and fiancés adopt on a daily basis. But where does the seemingly opposing couple fit in?
To start uncovering the answer, it’s best to take a quick look at a French dictionary. After all, both words originate from the language of romance.
Look for Fian…
If you look at the dictionary, you’ll find a bunch of amorous synonyms for the fiancé. When translated into English, the synonyms signal at the roles and emotional involvement.
To be exact, the fiancé stands for the future, the betrothed, the beloved, the promised. Simply put, the fiancé is the person whom you’re about to marry. So far so good. But when you start looking for fiancée, things become a bit tricky.
First, the fact that the same definition and synonyms apply to both words could be confusing. And it may lead you to believe the words are the same. But they’re not, bar the fact that both stand for the person you’re about to marry.
Gender-neutral terms have become very popular in English. And the rising awareness of gender-equal language may affect usage, spelling, and pronunciation. But this topic merits its own article, so it’s best to stick to fiancé vs. fiancée.
As a rule, nouns that transfer from French into English have a specific morphology or inflection that distinguishes between genders. To stop beating around the bush, fiancé is a man who got engaged and is about to marry.
According to French grammar, the additional E at the end is there to indicate the woman who got engaged and is about to marry. And this isn’t an isolated case. To give you a better idea of how this works, it’s best to use another example that’s close to home.
For instance, the French use cousin for a male relative. But like with fiancées, the additional E at the end shows the relative is of the female gender. Luckily, this rule didn’t spill over from French and a cousin in English is still a cousin.
Pronunciation Quirks of Fiancé
So what have you learned so far? Fiancé is the future groom and fiancée is the future bride. And you also know that a simple E is there to signal the gender. But do you need to twist your tongue really hard to pronounce the words?
The answer is no, not really. Both fiancé and fiancée pronunciation is FEE-ON-SAY. If some people tend to extend the last syllable to make it more French-like. Anyway, the only differences are in the gender and the spelling that signals that ending.
However, if you consider the aforementioned cousin vs. cousine, things are a bit different. In French, the two words have a different pronunciation, so it’s easier to remember them and make the distinction. But in English, female and male cousins are pronounced the same.
A Little Bit of History and Etymology
The French derived the word fiancé from a verb meaning to promise. If you’d literally translate it to English, fiancé would mean the man promised to a woman. Much the same way, fiancée is the lady promised to a man.
Interestingly, other languages often use the same or similar analogy. So the fiancé or fiancée translates as the promised one, the faithful one, or the betrothed one. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that verbs and nouns that signal this act of faith are universal and transcend cultural differences.
Of course, this applies at the level of the underlying meaning of individual words. But let’s not make this into a semantic debate.
When Did the Terms Come to English?
It’s tricky to pinpoint the exact year or the first mention of fiancé and fiancée in English. But the earliest records indicate that the terms transferred from French in the 19th century.
As said, the word originally comes from the Old French for to promise, but there’s more to its roots than you might think. The French language borrows fiancé from the Latin fidere and the word means to trust.
How About the Accent Mark?
The acute accent mark you sometimes see on fiancé and fiancée is original to French. And this kind of spelling remains to this day. But this doesn’t mean it’s wrong to spell the words without the accent.
Some think that the spelling sans the accent appears more elegant. This standpoint is up for debate, if one thing is for certain – the lack of accent makes the words appear more English. And there are other similar examples.
Cafe vs. café is the most prominent, and the same rule applies to cliche vs. cliché. Whichever spelling you prefer the key is in consistency. That is, you should stick to one spelling for the French words within a particular piece of writing.
As for the usage, you should stress the gender of your future spouse, at least in writing. If you’re texting, the key is to remember the extra E or lack thereof. For all other intentions and purposes, the person you’re talking to probably won’t have doubts about the gender of your future spouse.
The Battle Without a Winner
In the end, the only thing you need to remember is that the female fiancé has an extra E. The pronunciation and all other aspects of the words are the same. But ultimately, the biggest trick is to find a person to call fiancé or fiancé.
Are you up to the stage of being a fiancé or fiancé? Here are some articles that you may need to read: