We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is a Significant Other?

By Kelly Ferguson
Updated Feb 04, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A significant other is, in the most literal form of the phrase, a person who is significant to an individual. This can include close friends and family members who have a large impact on the individual's life. Most commonly, however, the phrase "significant other" is used to refer specifically to a boyfriend or girlfriend, a husband or wife, life partner, or other person in a romantic or otherwise intimate relationship with the individual.

Due to the fact that the term "significant other" does not differentiate between gender and relationship status, such as married versus simply dating, it is frequently used in reference to an individual's romantic partner when the speaker is not familiar with the partner. For instance, if someone asks a casual co-worker to an event, he or she might say, "feel free to bring along your significant other if you would like." This leaves room for the person to understand that his or her romantic interest is invited to the event but it does not make an assumption about whether he or she is married, dating, or seeing someone of the same sex. Sticking to the term "significant other" is socially "safe" because it prevents the individual from being offended at the speaker's choice of words or having to correct the speaker and explain his or her relationship.

Following the same example, even if the person inviting co-workers to an event is familiar with each co-worker's spouse, he or she can choose to send around an email without having to individually tailor the invitations to each person's situation. It is much easier to write "feel free to bring your significant other" in a mass email than it would be to change each invitation to say "wife," "girlfriend," and so on depending on the message's recipient. This phrasing also leaves room for those who might not be dating anyone to bring along a close friend instead without feeling socially awkward.

Less commonly, "significant other" can also mean any person who is very important to the individual. For example, this usage might be found when filling out a form that asks for the telephone number of a significant other so they may be contacted in case of an emergency. In this situation, it is just as appropriate to put the name and phone number of a parent or close friend as it would be to leave a spouse's name and contact information.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By umbra21 — On Oct 18, 2014

@Iluviaporos - I prefer it when an invitation just says "plus one". People might assume that it's for a partner, but you could potentially bring anyone.

Weddings in particular just seem to be fraught with social danger these days. If you don't bring the person who they consider to be "the significant other" then you could end up on the wrong end of the bride or groom, since they take the guest list seriously.

It's best to let them know who you are bringing in general, I suppose, but I do have to say that calling it a "plus one" might be more formal but it's also more open to interpretation.

By lluviaporos — On Oct 18, 2014

@clintflint - I don't know about that. You might be able to get away with a single mother calling her child a "significant other" although I suppose that's partly in jest.

I guess people default it to a romantic relationship because, in Western society, that's the one singular relationship most people have. You can have multiple children, multiple siblings, multiple parents (particularly these days when divorce and re-marriage is so common) but you're only expected to have a single serious romantic partner at a time.

With that being said, I have definitely said "significant other" to people intending them to take it as their best friend, rather than a romantic partner.

By clintflint — On Oct 17, 2014

I've never really thought about how strange this phrase is. I guess it must have originally been "significant other person" or "significant other half" because it just doesn't really make literal sense as it is.

I do like that it is both gender neutral and doesn't necessarily have to mean a husband or wife, or even a romantic partner in general. Although I have to say that I think people would assume a romantic partner as the default when specifying this on, say, an invitation.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.