A wife is a female partner in a continuing marital relationship. A wife refers to a woman. The term continues to be applied to a woman who has separated from her partner, and ceases to be applied to such a woman only when her marriage has come to an end, following a legally recognized divorce or the death of her spouse. On the death of her partner, a wife is referred to as a widow, but not after she is divorced from her partner.
The rights and obligations of a wife in relation to her partner and her status in the community and in law vary between cultures and have varied over time.
A white gold wedding ring and a single-diamond, gold-banded engagement ring. In many cultures, wives show their marital status through various symbols.
The word is of Germanic origin, from Proto-Germanic *wībam, “woman”. In Middle English it had the form wif, and in Old English wīf, “woman or wife”. It is related to Modern German Weib (woman, female), and Danish viv (wife, usually poetic) and may derive ultimately from the Indo-European root ghwībh- “shame; pudenda” (cf. Tocharian B kwīpe and Tocharian A kip, each meaning “female pudenda”, with clear sexual overtones). The original meaning of the phrase “wife” as simply “woman”, unconnected with marriage or a husband/wife, is preserved in words such as “midwife” and “fishwife”.
In many cultures, marriage is generally expected that a woman will take her husband’s surname, though that is not universal. A married woman may indicate her marital status in a number of ways: in Western culture a married woman would commonly wear a wedding ring but in other cultures other markers of marital status may be used. A married woman is commonly given the honorific title “Mrs”, but some married women prefer to be referred to as “Ms”, a title which is also used when the marital status of a woman is unknown.