What is a word for a person you live with but are not married to? I do not mean a room mate, but rather someone you are romantically involved with. From what I understand, spouse is someone you are married to and boyfriend/girlfriend does not state that you live together.

  • 1
    live-in partner? Nov 10, 2011 at 3:19
  • 5
    I think plain old partner implies cohabitee far more strongly than significant other. Nov 10, 2011 at 13:53
  • In Norway it's "samboer".
    – Hot Licks
    May 8, 2015 at 17:14

8 Answers 8


"Partner" conveys a romantic relationship and does not specify gender. It doesn't necessarily mean that you live together, but it's the way to bet. Note that employers that extend certain benefits to same-sex partners use the word "partner" but generally require cohabitation.

  • +1 I think partner (short, much of the time, for domestic partner) is the best option here.
    – user13141
    Nov 10, 2011 at 19:05
  • 6
    "Who's that?" "Oh, she's my partner." "What, are you running a law firm together?"
    – jprete
    Nov 10, 2011 at 21:42
  • @jprete, context will always be a problem -- I could, at the same time, have a law partner, a study partner, and a workout partner, so this problem isn't specific to romantic partners. Nov 10, 2011 at 22:12
  • Absent any overriding business context, if you introduce a person of the same sex as your "partner," many people will assume a sexual relationship.
    – Robusto
    Jul 2, 2012 at 16:00
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    @tchrist: Not necessarily. Opposite genders usually refer to boyfriend or girlfriend (as do gays and lesbians). But "partner" is a special category usually understood to be for gays who do not yet enjoy the right to marry.
    – Robusto
    Jul 3, 2012 at 2:52

"Common-law [husband|wife|spouse]" implies a understanding that a state of marriage exists but that you have not bothered getting official sanction.

Unmarried people living together are sometimes said to be "cohabitating", which suggests "cohabitant", though I've only heard that phase used once and it admits a misunderstanding that it merely means sharing a dwelling.

  • 1
    Note, most jurisdictions often necessitate cohabitating for a certain amount of time (usually a few years) for a common-law marriage to have legal standing. Of course there’s nothing stopping people from using it informally.
    – Synetech
    Jul 2, 2012 at 15:44
  • "Cohabitant" is a dictionary definition of the word OP is looking for: thefreedictionary.com/cohabitant = To live together in a sexual relationship, especially when not legally married. Jun 17, 2014 at 8:56
  • @dmckee, Is there a specific term for the opposite of a "common-law spouse"? E.g. "non-common-law spouse".. or "normal legal spouse".
    – Pacerier
    Apr 6, 2016 at 11:14

A possible term for this is significant other. This is defined as:

A person, such as a spouse or lover, with whom one shares a long-term sexual relationship.

This is a word I often hear used to described a long-term partner with whom a person lives.

The phrase live-in girlfriend or boyfriend is sometimes used. Domestic partner also describes the situation, but in recent years it has come to refer to homosexual partnerships more often than heterosexual ones.

  • Thank you. I am however looking for a less formal word. But I suppose such a word does not exist, and boyfriend/girlfriend/partner is used instead. In Sweden (ie swedish) there is a word (sambo) commonly used for theese scenarios.
    – David W.
    Nov 9, 2011 at 23:16
  • 4
    I don't think significant other is too formal. I hear it in conversation all the time, especially among middle-aged persons.
    – Brendon
    Nov 9, 2011 at 23:17
  • Does it imply that you're living together though?
    – David W.
    Nov 9, 2011 at 23:21
  • @DavidW. Not necessarily, but if someone said that to me I would assume they were living together unless told otherwise.
    – Brendon
    Nov 9, 2011 at 23:22
  • @Brendon, "SO" is also used for "significant other" when 6 syllables is too long.
    – Pacerier
    Apr 23, 2016 at 9:25

The (United States) Census Bureau originated a phrase which became quite popular circa 1990 or so: POSSLQ, pronounced "possle-cue". It stands for Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters.

Such a bureaucratic, unromantic phrase... and yet I recall that my POSSLQ and I got a kick out of calling each other that. Good times.

  • 3
    Looking back at the original question, I realize that the OP is asking about romantic relationships - not necessarily heterosexual - and that POSSLQ explicitly specifies heterosexual relationships, not necessarily romantic. So, probably NOT what the OP was looking for. Still, a fun word.
    – MT_Head
    Nov 10, 2011 at 2:05
  • Additionally, a number of years ago I had a female roommate who was simply a roommate. Evidently she was a POSSLQ, but was not a romantic partner. Of course had the government chosen POSSSQ (person of the opposite sex sharing sleeping quarters), then the distinction might be useful. I really will have to fire off an email to the Census Bureau... :-)
    – Fraser Orr
    Jul 2, 2012 at 20:11
  • @FraserOrr - "Come and knock on our door..."
    – MT_Head
    Jul 2, 2012 at 21:16
  • Even though POSSLQ is heterosexual-specific, it's still a useful answer to this question since many people these days use "partner" only for same-sex couples.
    – alcas
    Jul 3, 2012 at 0:50
  • @alcas - But unfortunately it (POSSLQ) does not specify that the persons are romantically or sexually involved, which is what the OP was asking for. (I know - it's my own answer, and I'm putting it down...) A boyfriend/girlfriend who are "living in sin" can use this term to refer to their arrangement, but it leaves their actual sleeping arrangements ambiguous. (AHA! They could use this term when talking to their parents, to avoid unpleasantness!)
    – MT_Head
    Jul 3, 2012 at 1:15

Basically, if you act like a married couple, and you're just missing the official piece of paper, you can get away with using words like husband, wife, and others that are typically reserved for legal marriage.

To inject a personal anecdote, after my father died, my mother began seeing, and eventually living with, another man. They had intended to get married, but things got in the way (planning my sister's marriage, then illnesses) and they eventually decided it wasn't really necessary. But after a while, she started referring to him as her second husband, and everyone accepted it. She'd become close to his family, considered his children (all grown) to be hers. When his grandson had a child, she announced that she was a great-grandmother.

  • 1
    This is a good comment, but is not really an answer to the OP.
    – Mitch
    May 8, 2015 at 18:44
  • 1
    Perhaps. I was trying to say that in some circumstances, you can use words that are normally reserved for a legal spouse.
    – Barmar
    May 8, 2015 at 18:45
  • Oh. OK, that's a reasonable answer. It just wasn't obvious to me. Maybe start off with your 'Basically...' sentence.
    – Mitch
    May 8, 2015 at 18:52

Here in Australia at least, this would be referred to as a de facto partner, de facto being a Latin expression meaning 'by fact'. That is, a partnership for all intents and purposes but not a marriage by law. This term is used commonly in government regulations concerning taxation and social security as it implies cohabitation, sharing of financial responsibilities and so on.

Having said that, de facto would rarely be used by someone to describe their partner, it being more of a legal term.

  • Ugh, legalese. Same goes for "common-law".
    – Andrew Vit
    Nov 10, 2011 at 11:45
  • It's in common use within Australia so I'm not sure de-facto is quite as bad as "common-law".
    – lzcd
    Nov 10, 2011 at 23:21
  • While the term "de facto" is common here in Australia, isn't it a de facto spouse? They're not de facto partners, they're actual partners. Either way we usually just say "de facto", and at least some dictionaries recognise that.
    – nnnnnn
    Mar 26, 2020 at 0:20

Informally, mate.

Somewhat more formally, consort.

My MW Unabridged associates both words with marriage, but I doubt that conversational usage would be so binding.


One possible word is paramour.

  • I fixed your spelling and added a link. Jul 2, 2012 at 15:46
  • I disagree that living with your lover makes your love illicit. Jul 3, 2012 at 11:17
  • Paramour has no implication of living together, indeed its main definition ("an illicit or secret lover") has the opposite implication: a little tricky to keep a relationship with someone secret while living with that person.
    – nnnnnn
    Mar 26, 2020 at 0:18

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