When one of a married couple dies, there's a word (widow or widower) to refer to the survivor, but there seems to be no word to refer to the deceased.

My wife was a widow when I met her. How should I refer to her last husband? Saying "ex-husband" implies they are divorced. Saying "dead ex-husband" sounds gruesome, and implies that perhaps they were divorced when he died.

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    The dead guy is her 'late husband'. – Mitch Jan 28 '14 at 12:07

In this context you would use the word 'late'.

The late Elvis Presley...

Mrs Smith's late husband used to...

This means the person is deceased.

However, it's normally used when the person hasn't remarried. So my wife's late husband could be confusing, since if her husband's dead who are you?!

You could still use this phrase but for clarity I would recommend either

my wife's late former husband


my wife's late first husband

(Note the adjective order. Former late husband sounds like he's no longer dead and first late husband sounds like she's got more than one dead husband.)

Ex-husband is used so often as a phrase that I think if you said late ex-husband people would think they were divorced before he died. For this reason, late first husband might be better than late former husband. I think semantically late first husband is better as well, because he didn't technically stop being her husband when he died (otherwise the phrase late husband wouldn't be used to begin with).

  • Thanks for the well-thought out answer. I think technically he did stop being her husband when he died. There really should be a word for this. – user1008646 Jan 28 '14 at 14:51
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    I think phrases like late husband indicate that he didn't (compare dead husband with dead ex-husband), but it's definitely a confusing area. – starsplusplus Jan 28 '14 at 15:45

Obviously saying "dead husband" would be a bit grim, but saying "late husband" seems to be acceptable and generally implied deceased as opposed to divorced.

This is the case in the UK

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