Wife: Wikis


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The Merchant's Wife (1918) by Boris Kustodiev
A pregnant wife

A wife is a female partner in a marriage. The rights and obligations of the wife regarding her spouse and others, and her status in the community and in law, varies between cultures and has varied over time.

The traditional meaning of the term was "woman", which implied her subordination to that of the husband. In recent times in Western societies, the term has taken a more neutral meaning of simply the female partner in a marriage, but that meaning is not universally accepted throughout the world, nor throughout Western societies.

In a marriage, the roles of the husband and wife are different, even within a culture of marital equality. An important aspect of the role differentiation arises from the biological fact of the female partner being the sole child-bearer, and bears an important role in child-rearing.


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),[1] from the Indo-European root ghwībh-; wīb, meaning veiled or clothed, referred to the wedding veils.[2]

Related terminology

The term “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.

Traditionally, the bride 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.[3] 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.[4] A wife may, in some cultures and times, share the title of her husband, without having gained that title by her own right.[5]

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).[6] In some societies, especially historically, a concubine was a woman who was in an ongoing, usually matrimonially-oriented relationship with a man who could not be married to her, often because of a difference in social status.

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

Christian cultures (or, more generally, Western ones, that is, Western Europe and many of its 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,[7] though it became an ideal in literature.[8] Women were not expected to have any property:[9] they only were given a dowry by their parents to give her husband[10] and inherited only if there were no male offspring.[11] Unable to procure for herself, a woman had to submit to the husband chosen to avoid problems (prostitution, or a criminal career,[12]), 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.[13] The situation was assessed by the English conservative moralist Sir William Blackstone: “The husband and wife are one, and the husband is the one.”[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

If a woman did not want to marry, another option was entering a convent as a nun[17] to become a “bride of Christ”,[18] a state in which her chastity would be protected[18] and the woman was economically protected as well.[19] Both a wife and a nun wore veils, which proclaimed their state of protection by the rights of marriage.[20]

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”;[21] 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 middle and upper class family life, when in the 1960s these 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”.[22]

Today, a woman may wear a wedding ring in order to show her status as a wife.[23]

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.[24] 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.[25] 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.[26] 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 not rare.[27] In some Muslim societies the father may decide whose wife his daughter is going to be, and possibly even force her into the marriage, although this custom is not based on religion but tradition.[28] The arranged marriage is the common way in traditionalist families, whether in Muslim countries or as first or second generation immigrants elsewhere. Beating his wife, however, is defined as a husband’s right in most schools of Islam, but is strongly discouraged by hadiths.[Qur'an 4:34].

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.[29] The husband must pay a mahr to the bride, which is similar to the dower.[30]

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.[31]

A riverside Muslim wedding in India.

The situation of a wife in Muslim society is controversial: Some groups criticize the condition of wives as being “miserable”,[32] and propose intolerance to the rule that a husband may beat his wife.[33] 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.”[34] 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.[35] 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.[36]

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.[37] Traditionally and most commonly, the only sign of the marriage is the nikah,[38] the written marriage contract.


In Indo-Aryan languages, a wife is known as "Patni", means a woman 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 rivaling 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.”[39] In Gujarati, a wife is known as a "Patni" or "Ardhangini" meaning a part of the Husband or his family. She takes all cares of her Husband and Family. In Hindu a women or man can get married, but only have one wife or husband respectively. Commonly, a wife wears vermillion powder on her forehead to show her status as a married woman.

Inside the hindu way of life, in Kerala (South India), there is a prominent sub caste, Nair. Nair women had personal property rights, and the family property was inherited through Nair women alone. Until the enactment of Abolition of Joint Family in Kerala, hindu-nair women enjoyed exclusive property rights. This appears to be an unique feature, not seen followed in many other sects.

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.[40]


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.[39]

Expectation of fidelity

There is a widely held expectation, which has existed for most of recorded history and in most cultures, that a wife is expected not to have sexual relations with anyone other than her husband. A breach of this expectation of fidelity is commonly referred to as adultery or extramarital sex. This expectation has usually been applied more strictly in the case of a wife. Historically, adultery has been considered to be a serious offense, sometimes a crime. Even if that is not so, it may still have legal consequences, particularly a divorce. Adultery may be a factor to consider in a property settlement, it may affect the status of children, the custody of children, etc. Moreover, adultery can result in social ostracism in some partswhich? of the world.

See also


  1. ^ Etymology of “Weib”
  2. ^ American Heritage Dictionary on “wife”
  3. ^ Britannica 2005, dowry
  4. ^ Merriam-Webster, dower
  5. ^ Sharing the husband’s title
  6. ^ Merriam-Webster on Midwife, and Britannica, midwife
  7. ^ William C. Horne, Making a heaven of hell: the problem of the companionate ideal in English marriage, poetry, 1650-1800 Athens (Georgia), 1993
  8. ^ Frances Burney, Evelina, Lowndes 1778, and Seeber, English Literary History of the eighteenth century, Weimar 1999
  9. ^ Elizabeth M. Craik, Marriage and property, Aberdeen 1984
  10. ^ Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace, To Marry An English Lord, p166-7, ISBN 0-89480-939-3
  11. ^ Future of the Children
  12. ^ Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders: theoretical preface
  13. ^ for the 18th and 19th century, which contained much criticism of these facts, see also Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Boston 1792
  14. ^ William Blackstone, Commentaries upon the Laws of England
  15. ^ Joseph Addison, The Spectator, No.81
  16. ^ Brockhaus 2004, Kranzgeld .
  17. ^ Though cloisters’ practices were not bound by modern national borders, see sources for Spain, for Italy, and for Britain
  18. ^ a b (Taking) The White Veil
  19. ^ The welfare of the cloister members was ensured by the Catholic Church and the Pope.
  20. ^ Silvia Evangelisti, Wives, Widows, And Brides Of Christ: Marriage And The Convent In The Historiography Of Early Modern Italy, Cambridge 2000
  21. ^ ”Companionship marriage” and “companionate marriage” are synonyms (the latter being the older one), although the term usually refers to a relationship based on equality, it might instead refer to a marriage with mutual interest in their children, [1]
  22. ^ Stepfamily as individualized marriage
  23. ^ Howard, Vicki. “A ‘Real Man’s Ring”: Gender and the Invention of Tradition.” Journal of Social History. Summer 2003 pp837-856
  24. ^ Maternity pay and allowance, and work and family guide
  25. ^ Cuckoo’s egg in the nest, Spiegel 07, 2007
  26. ^ The restrictions of her abilities to do this vary immensely even within a legal system, see case NY vs. Fishman, 2000
  27. ^ The New Encyclopedia of Islam(2002), AltaMira Press. ISBN 0-7591-0189-2 p.477
  28. ^ Spiegel 07, 2007
  29. ^ Clothes
  30. ^ Qur’an verse 4;4
  31. ^ Yvonne Haddad and John Esposito. Islam, Gender, and Social Change, Published 1998. Oxford University Press, US. ISBN 0-19-511357-8.
  32. ^ miserable quote
  33. ^ Wives in Islam controversy
  34. ^ Dr. Haddad, Damascus, Responsibilities of a husband
  35. ^ Heba G. Kotb M.D., Sexuality in Islam, PhD Thesis, Maimonides University, 2004
  36. ^ Both cases are described in the main article of Der Spiegel (13), 2007, p.23f, cf. summary
  37. ^ Westernized Muslims
  38. ^ Nikah in marriage
  39. ^ a b Britannica, Legal limitations on marriage (from family law)
  40. ^ Britannica 2004, Legal limitations on marriage (from family law)


Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Most common English words: perhaps « state « says « #308: wife » hear » least » person



Old English wīf (woman), from Proto-Germanic *wīƀam. Cognate with Dutch wijf, German Weib.


Wikipedia has an article on:




wife (plural wives)

  1. A married woman, esp. in relation to her spouse.
  2. The female of a pair of mated animals.
    A new wife for the gander is introduced into the pen.
  3. (Geordie, dialectal) (archaic) 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."


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Derived terms

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  • The New Geordie Dictionary, Frank Graham, 1987, ISBN 0946928118



Old English wīf "woman"


wife (plural wifes)



  1. wife.

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

The ordinance of marriage was sanctioned in Paradise (Gen 2:24; Mt 19:4-6). Monogamy was the original law under which man lived, but polygamy early commenced (Gen 4:19), and continued to prevail all down through Jewish history. The law of Moses regulated but did not prohibit polygamy. A man might have a plurality of wives, but a wife could have only one husband. A wife's legal rights (Ex 21:10) and her duties (Prov 31:10-31; 1 Tim 5:14) are specified. She could be divorced in special cases (Deut 22:13-21), but could not divorce her husband. Divorce was restricted by our Lord to the single case of adultery (Mt 19:3-9). The duties of husbands and wives in their relations to each other are distinctly set forth in the New Testament (1Cor 7:2-5; Eph 5:22-33; Col 3:18, 19; 1 Pet 3:1-7).

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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This article needs to be merged with WIFE (Jewish Encyclopedia).

Simple English

A wife is a married woman. "Married" means that the law says two people are legally "joined".

In countries and times it has been different how many wives a man can have legally. In old times there was no limitations in some countries. In christianity a man can have one wife. In Islam a man can have up to four wives.

There are some names for special kinds of wives. For example, a queen is a wife of a king.

If a child is born between a man and his wife, this child is thought as a legitimate (lawful) child. In contrary a child between a man and a woman who are not married is called illegitimate child or a bastard. Though out of wedlock children have lost a social stigma in many western countries where common-law relationships are becoming much more common.

A man whose wife is deceased is called a widower.

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