I wish to say something along the lines of

"after she found out her husband was cheating on her"

however I have realized that 'cheating' is colloquial. Is there a formal alternative that is a verb?

  • 1
    possible duplicate of What do you call someone who betrays his/her spouse? Commented Nov 4, 2012 at 7:46
  • 2
    My on-board dictionary tags cheating with "informal". Still, it's worth noting that the term is very commonly used in the U.S., so much so that I probably wouldn't take pains to avoid it, even in formal writing.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 4, 2012 at 9:21

3 Answers 3


Merriam-Webster's 3rd Unabridged

Main Entry:2cuckold
Function:transitive verb
Inflected Form:-ed/-ing/-s

: to make a cuckold of (a husband)

Philander Main Entry:2philander Function:intransitive verb Inflected Form:philandered ; philandered ; philandering -d()ri\ ; philanders

: to make love frivolously or in a trifling or fickle way : DALLY, FLIRT belles and beaux philandered in the big hotels— Van Wyck Brooks *his penchant for philandering with pretty stenographers finally drove his wife to sue for divorce*

  • Does anybody actually say this now? I have never heard it used, though it does appear in Victorian novels occasionally. Ngram Commented Nov 4, 2012 at 5:45
  • It's a formal term of opprobrium, and these days, such behavior seems to be the norm all over the Western world, so I doubt that many people use cuckold or philander, which I just added in an edit.
    – user21497
    Commented Nov 4, 2012 at 5:48
  • Philander works a bit better but still sounds archaic (OED says 'chiefly poetic'). Cuckold, to be accurate, is something you do to the husband, not something the wife does. If you have an affair with a married woman, you cuckold her husband. Commented Nov 4, 2012 at 5:56
  • Yes, you're right. "Philander" is the formal verb that the OP was looking for. I realized only after I'd posted the answer that it was the wrong sequence of sexes, which is why I added "philander". I can't think of another formal verb from any era that expresses adultery without requiring at least one other word. There's the more general betray, but that's not restricted to sexual behavior. The adulterous married woman also cuckolds her husband.
    – user21497
    Commented Nov 4, 2012 at 6:09
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    @Zairja: You're obviously well read as well as seasoned enough to know those ancient terms. :-) Me too. "Those who don't know history are doomed to [deny] it" (my paraphrase of Santayana's famous dictum).
    – user21497
    Commented Nov 4, 2012 at 14:37

Commit adultery describes the act, but, if you want something less formal, you can use be unfaithful to.


to commit adultery

adultery : voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and someone other than his wife or between a married woman and someone other than her husband; also : an act of adultery

"after she found out her husband was an adulterer"


"after she found out her husband had committed adultery"

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