I've noticed that Indians use the term would-be in place of fiancé/fiancée. Usages like "Meet my would-be" and "This is my would-be" are common in introductions. I used to wonder if this is just an Indian usage or if we got it from the British. I have never heard it being used in American movies or on TV. (I also used to wonder if people used "He/she is my would-have-been" if the wedding was called off after the engagement. :-))

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    I've certainly never heard it in Britain. – neil Apr 5 '11 at 8:51
  • I've never heard it in Australia. – Glen Wheeler Apr 5 '11 at 9:29
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    In India (southern India, at least), the opposite of arranged marriage is "love marriage". :) It is common to ask "Is it an arranged marriage or love marriage?" Though most of the marriages in India are arranged, I don't think the term has got anything to do with the arranged marriage system. – MediumOne Apr 5 '11 at 12:54
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    @Callithumpian: yeah, it's used as a direct replacement for one's fiance/fiancee - whether arranged or "love". – JoseK Apr 5 '11 at 13:05
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    In American English, I've heard "intended" which I quite like. – Charles Apr 29 '13 at 16:54

Yup, I believe the background to this is a plain translation of the Hindi "honewala pati / honewali patni" which means "husband-to-be/wife-to-be".

It's definitely not used in the UK or US (except by other Indians ;) - don't know of other nations though.

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    Never heard it in the US nor seen it in print, ever. – The Raven Apr 5 '11 at 13:02
  • Though a direct translation from Hindi is a possibility, it could also have evolved from "bride-to-be/groom-to-be" which I think is in common usage. Also, now that we have arrived at the answer by elimination in different English-speaking countries, I am finding it a little unfair to select yours as the only answer. :-) – MediumOne Apr 5 '11 at 13:29
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    @MediumOne: I still think it's derived from Hindi - since people drop the pati/patni, and only say "mera honewala" which directly means "my to-be" – JoseK Apr 5 '11 at 13:33
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    @JoseK: It is used by Indians in non-Hindi speaking areas, so I'm unconvinced it's derived from Hindi. If you mean "derived from the corresponding Indian languages", well, perhaps that's possible. – ShreevatsaR Jul 12 '11 at 17:55
  • @MediumOne - Not entirely. We still haven't heard from South Africa and Jamacia. :-) – T.E.D. Apr 30 '13 at 12:51

In England we use would-be as a pre-modifying adjective. Used as such, it means something that could have happened if conditions had been different. For example:

Jim claims that he designed the iPod but that Steve Jobs beat him to the patent office. These days, the would-be millionaire takes his 40 minute dinner break at the local MacDonalds.

Here we can see that Jim could have been a millionaire had he submitted his design sooner. As it is though, he missed out and lives a normal life.

With that in mind, we could say would-be husband/would-be wife but the meaning would shift. It would mean somebody that could have been your wife under different circumstances (perhaps they were all set to marry when the guy got drafted) but are not. It certainly is not the same as fiance.

Hope this helps.

As a point of interest, if you wanted to adapt the phrase to the meaning, grammatically it would have to be will-be wife, but that doesn't exist.

  • You answer has questioned my understanding of "would be" and "would have been". @ "Used as such, it means something that could have happened if conditions had been different" : I always believed "would have been" is used to imply the above meaning. If I had to write your example sentence, I would have written it as "These days, the would-have-been millionaire takes his 40 minute dinner break at the local MacDonalds." And, I also believed "would be" is mostly used interchangeably with "will be" to imply certainty (though I have not clearly understood how "would be" isdifferentfrom"willbe"). – MediumOne Apr 5 '11 at 13:17
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    Hi, @MediumOne. You're right that would have been achieves the same, but it does not fit as an adjective the same way. To use it, you would need something like the following sentence: Jim, who would have been a millionaire if only things had worked out right, eats... - Using would-be is essentially a shortened version of the same. As for would be/will be, 'would' implies condition while 'will' means that this thing is going to happen. (I will be in Singapore next week - I would be in Singapore if I could afford the tickets) – Karl Apr 5 '11 at 13:25

Would-be in the sense of fiance or fiancee is an Indianism. In UK English, would-be is used only before a noun to describe someone who is hoping to become the type of person mentioned: a would-be actor, advice for would-be parents.

protected by tchrist Mar 1 '15 at 19:02

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