In India there is a tendency to call a woman or a man as would be in the sense of his future wife or her future husband.

She is his would be ( wife)

He is her would be ( husband)

I have found the expression wife to be.

Is there an expression husband to be?

Is _ Would be _ or would be wife idiomatic in native English speaking countries?

  • 3
    A "would be wife" sounds a little like a wannabe wife. Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 16:20
  • 2
    +1. a 'would be' something is something the person being talked about wishes to be. I doesn't imply that they will succeed, though. Idiomatically saying that his fiancé is his wife to be is much clearer. Saying 'My sister is Benjamin Cumberbach's would be wife' may be true, but I don't see it happening. Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 16:24
  • "Wife/husband to be" is a fine substitute for fiancée; it has been agreed upon. "Would-be wife/husband" implies such a goal, but no such agreement; it is a wish or dream.
    – Davo
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 16:25
  • 1
    To put a finer point on the above comments: "Would be" is conditional and means "would be if..." and has a connotation of "not going to be, but would have been if..."
    – Damila
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 16:36
  • Q2: duplicate of Is the term 'would-be' just an Indian usage, or universal?. Q1: general reference; also given at duplicate of Q1. Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 18:00

4 Answers 4


Summarizing/extending the comments:

Fiancé is used to refer to someone who is formally engaged to be married, but the marriage has not yet happened. Sometimes people add an "e" to the end (i.e., fiancée) to refer to a female, but not reliably and "fiancé" is often used as a gender-neutral form. Grammatically, you almost always hear it in a possessive context, as in "that is her fiancé" or "she is my fiancé".

If the two people have yet not agreed to marry or the marriage is not otherwise arranged, then the concept is expressed exactly the way you did when you asked the question, i.e., "future husband" or "future wife". Note that this connotes that the marriage is speculative and may not happen, though it also connotes that at least one person wants it to happen.

Example pop culture quote from Big Bang Theory: https://www.quotes.net/mquote/886545

"Would-be wife" is a little different. "Would-be" in that context means "has the potential to occur" (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/would-be). To me, it connotes that the marriage might happen in different circumstances, but something would have to change before it does.

  • "would-be" normally means that the status is desired but not yet planned. From older English "she would be his wife" meaning that she wants to be his wife. Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 18:11
  • @DJClayworth yes, but (at least to me, as an American) it also means that it isn't going to happen unless something changes. Maybe a better reference is collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/would-be, under the American usage.
    – Richter65
    Commented Oct 25, 2019 at 19:38

In the US, I've seen the term would be X referring to something that would have, under given circumstances, been something, but for some reason, it didn't come to be this way. For example, a would be doctor might refer to someone who was studying and was ready to receive their doctorate, but then suffered an accident that caused this person to miss their final exam, thus (in this case, temporarily) denying them this status.

In that sense, I don't believe that in the case of certain future marriage, you can use this idiomatically to mean husband/wife to be. But as far as your second question, the term X to be can be applied to anything that will become that thing.

Here's a short, quick list of examples using X to be:

Graduate to be
Someone who will soon graduate from a university

Husband to be
A man who will soon be married

Lawyer to be
Someone who, presumably, will become a lawyer in the near future

...and so on.

Keep in mind that here, using X to be, you are referring to a title, status, or other such stature. Adjectives don't work there. It is unnatural to say happy to be, for example, with this meaning.


She is his would-be wife.

means that she wants to be his wife. It's from older English where "She would be his wife" means that she wants to be his wife. It does not mean that the wedding is planned. (It could also mean that he wants her to be his wife, but that would be less usual). The usage is a bit old. The modern equivalent is "wanna-be wife".

'Wife-to-be' means that she will be his wife in the future. It assumes the wedding is planned, or at least agreed to. 'Future wife' would be a synonym, and 'fiance' would be normal.


In the US, "would be wife" or "would be husband" are unusual. They don't necessarily indicate that the marriage is going to happen. One might get the impression that it's a hopeful arrangement instead of an agreement.

Some better options are fiancé/fiancée or as you suggested, husband-to-be/wife-to-be or future husband/future wife. Bride-to-be and future bride are also used but the matching "groom" versions are not. The "future" versions are sometimes used jocularly to imply a predetermined engagement that one or neither person agrees to.

See also: https://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/84417/is-my-would-be-wife-correct

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