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What do you call someone who betrays his/her spouse? Is the word different for men and women? Is it different for people who are in a relationship and not still married?

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I could tell you, but the comment would get deleted. –  Orbling Feb 14 '11 at 0:57
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@Orbling: I don't think they delete it because of being offensive. You can note that the word is offensive and warn me not to use it! –  Manoochehr Feb 14 '11 at 8:37
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In most cases "Divorced" ;p –  Tester101 Feb 24 '11 at 17:24
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user5531, no, cuckold is the victim, not the betrayer. –  Monica Cellio Feb 7 '12 at 19:58
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you do not call them any longer… –  user58319 Feb 14 at 9:58

13 Answers 13

up vote 19 down vote accepted

For a word that can refer to both married people or people in a relationship, you can use cheat, cheater, two-time (informal). Two-time is also used as verb, as reported from the NOAD: He was two-timing a fiancé back in England.

For people who are married, you can use adulterer (which is gender-neutral) or adulteress (when referring to her).

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Do we have three-time (and so on) also? ;-) –  Nivas Feb 14 '11 at 3:52
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Three cheers for three-time! –  Tergiver Feb 14 '11 at 15:24
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I only know it as "two-timing bastard" or (not sure) "two-timer". –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 14 '11 at 15:25

Adulterer is gender neutral but refers specifically to a marriage, not other relationships.

edit: Merriam-Webster lists a female form, adulteress, but it seems to have fallen into disuse.

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I don't think "adulterer" is used much more than "adulteress". Try it out, use it with ordinary people and watch their reactions. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 13 '11 at 20:58
    
That would depend on their background... However in some, such as christian backgrounds, the term can be highly offensive - and focuses on the more lustful/sexual aspects of the term, not mere betrayal. –  Arafangion Feb 14 '11 at 3:40
    
The word can be synonymous to Philanderer and Womanizer. –  ikartik90 Feb 15 '11 at 8:46
    
The use of adulterer and adulteress seems to hav stayed more or less steady since the '40s books.google.com/ngrams/… –  AnWulf Feb 8 '12 at 4:25

The term philanderer could be used, although it is more rare and often used along with the other terms mentioned (adulterer/adulteress/two-timer/cheater). The person who engages in philandering is a person who engages in at least one, if not many frivolous sexual exploits outside of the bounds of marriage. Philanderer has a strong male connotation. I have not heard this term used in reference to females.

You dirty, rotten, two-timing, cheating, adulterous philanderer! I trusted you!

When referring to an unfaithful woman, sometimes much more vulgar terms are used, usually in relation to her sexual morals and/or her potential willingness to engage in prostitution.

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Funny, I was familiar with the term "philanderer" because of Shaw's play dated 1893, and I thought the word was quite obsolete. However, running through Google for frequency, I realized that the period in which the term was used most often is between 1920 and 1940, and after that it has remained pretty stable... –  Paola Apr 22 '12 at 23:29

The technical/formal/old(?) term is adulterer/adulteress.

The term used by ordinary people in not-extremely-formal contexts is cheater.

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Most commonly the betrayer is referred to as an adulterer, although cheater works as a more colloquial term. I'm pretty sure it is gender neutral, as well.

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Interesting, I never really thought about adulterer only applying to marriages. –  Nick Coelius Feb 13 '11 at 20:54
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Technically, adultery refers to the act of a married person having sex with someone who is not their spouse. Although some consider pre-marital copulation to be adultery, it is not technically so. –  oosterwal Feb 13 '11 at 23:10
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@oosterwal: in fact, there is a word for pre-marital sex: fornication. –  Marthaª Feb 14 '11 at 17:49
    
@Martha fornication only refers to the act of pre-marital sex, it doesn't imply any sort of betrayal or cheating-on –  Nick Coelius Feb 17 '11 at 19:12
    
precisely. –  Marthaª Feb 17 '11 at 19:15

The word for a man/woman who is married and has sex with a woman/man who is not his/her wife/husband is adulterer/adulteress

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Just have to note that it's "adulterer", not "adulter". ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 13 '11 at 21:00
    
@jae: That's right. Edited the answer. –  user4873 Feb 14 '11 at 9:44
    
Surely one can commit adultery with a member of the same sex. –  FordBuchanan Mar 2 '11 at 22:38
    
@Ford: Logically, yes, but legally I'm not so sure (in the sense that it would be termed such in a court; infidelity or some other term might be favored there). –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 16:22
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@TheRaven ... I disagree. Adulterer and adulteress hav stayed more or less steady since the '40s: books.google.com/ngrams/… –  AnWulf Feb 8 '12 at 4:23

Cheating on one's spouse is not the only way to betray them; there are several others e.g. disclosing a spouse's deepest secrets, causing your spouse some form of public humiliation, etc.

If the betrayal involves sexual escapades or an illicit/extramarital affair, then relevant terms are:

cheat • womanizer • skirt-chaser • adulterer[ress] • fornicator • heartbreaker • philanderer • husband-snatcher • two-timer • unfaithful spouse • ladies' man • seductress • Don Juan • Casanova

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The last four are inappropriate. –  emodendroket May 23 at 18:05

While English does retain some nouns for a person who displays infidelity in a marital relationship, these terms have the sense of being curiously dated. To call a person "a cheat" or "a philanderer" harkens back to the kind of language you'd hear in some Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedy from yesteryear.

It is possible to say, "he's an adulterer," but to do so is branding the person with an identity, and socially it's becoming less permissible to do that. Rather, the more common ways to express this sort of thing is through more active terms that describe the activity itself:

  • He's cheating on her.
  • She's seeing another man.
  • He was unfaithful to her.
  • She went around behind his back.

Etc.

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Agreed. Even words like two-timer sound a bit dated now. (Unfortunately, in my humble opinion.) –  Wayne May 17 '11 at 15:57
    
It would probably be perfectly acceptable to call someone an adulterer if they were actually convicted of adultery, in the same way it is only permissible to call someone a murderer if they were actually convicted of or had confessed to murder. Many people forget that adultery is actually illegal still, at least it is in my state. Here it is actually on the books at a punishment up to life in prison, though that would never happen in the modern day. –  Lawton Jun 13 '12 at 20:35
    
@Lawton, many people also forget that there are states where sex between unmarried people is likewise illegal. Whether the fornication laws—or indeed the adultery laws—would be enforceable after Lawrence v. Texas is another matter, and I doubt ‘adulterer’ would be taken by anyone these days to mean ‘someone convicted of adultery’. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 14 at 19:19

From a British perspective, I would say that cheat (exactly the same spelling as the verb) and two-timer (with an r) are the standard nouns describing people outside a marriage. Cheater is used colloquially, but is frowned upon as incorrect. Two-time is used as a verb, not a noun.

As others have stated, adulterer and adulteress are the standard, formal terms for people within a marriage.

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How is cheater incorrect (or thought of as incorrect)? –  Mitch Apr 2 '11 at 16:22
    
I would consider it more likely that a cheater is someone who cheats on his or her spouse. A cheat is, to me, more likely to be someone who cheats in a game or on a test, for example, unrelated to sexual behaviour. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 14 at 19:21
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@Mitch @ Janus BJ -- Cheat (noun) is British English; cheater is US English. –  Erik Kowal May 8 at 3:32

Perhaps not PC, but in English common law betrayal of one's husband (or lord) was called petit treason. However this tended to be for extreme betrayals: a knife in the back where the blade was rather more solid than a metaphor.

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A philanderer can be a person who is not married.

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Works for both man and woman:

Bedswerver One who swerves from and is unfaithful to the marriage vow.

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It is infidelity or an affair (marriage) vs cheating "the game" and its "players" and "sluts" on both sides, when it comes to dating. Most marriages are just a pipe dream between two "players" who regain their love for "the game" eventually. Well, on average it takes seven years; Then the carriage turns back into a pumpkin.

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