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

Origin and etymology

The term originated from the Middle English wif, from Old English w?f, woman, wife, from Germanic * w?bam, woman, related to Modern German Weib (woman, wife), from the Indo-European root ghw?bh-; w?b, 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 have a range of rights and obligations (see main article Rights and obligations of spouses in Islam. Marriage takes place on the basis of a marriage contract, and for a husband to have more than one wife is very rare. Even today, in some Muslim societies the father may decide whose wife his daughter is going to be, and possibly even force her into the marriage under threat of murdering her, although this custom is not based on religion but tradition. Beating his wife, however, is defined as a husband's right in most schools of Islam, but is strongly discouraged by hadiths..

Women in 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 to the bride, which is similar to the dower.

Though for wives there seem to be no external signs, other than being allowed to reveal their entire head to her husband, which is not only stated by the Qur'an but known by even older customs.

The situation of a wife in Muslim society is controversial: Some groups criticize the condition of wives as being "miserable", and propose intolerance to the rule that a husband may beat his wife. Based on the fundamentals of Islam, they emphasize that according to the Scripture, "the Prophet(s) said: "Do not beat your wife" and "Do not strike your wife in the face." Traditionally, the wife has had a high esteem in Islam as a protected, chaste person that manages the household and the family. Progressive Muslims today may also agree on a perfectly equal relationship. The majority, however, is vastly different; not only does sura four, the An-Nisa, allow to beat a wife, but in Germany, a Muslim won a case in Frankfurt when his wife wanted an immediate divorce (additional to the separation already in place, without the one years' respite) due to domestic violence; her request was rejected, based on the argument that it was "custom" and "based on Islamic law". Critics commented the verdict legitimized beating one's wife (see source); in another case, murder of someone for "causing dishonor" ended in sentence of homicide instead, because the person on trial was a Muslim brother killing his sister.

Traditionally, Muslim married women are not distinguished from unmarried women by an outward symbol (such as a wedding ring). However women's wedding rings have recently been adopted in the past thirty years from the Western culture. Traditionally and most commonly, the only sign of the marriage is the nikah, the written marriage contract.


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 str?dhana, 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

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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