Reader question: I have been with my partner for many years but we’re not married. I always struggle to find the right French word to describe our relationship when chatting to new people. What is the best term to use?
As you have noted or may have heard, there are indeed subtle differences between which terms to use when referring to the person you live with if you are not married.
First of all, “ma moitié” is the closest equivalent to “my other half” in French and was first used to describe a person’s wife but now characterises both sexes. The masculine counterpart “mon moitié” does not exist.
This is where language uses are getting more subtle when you are not married.
“Mon copain” or the feminine “ma copine” is often used by younger people ranging from early teenagers to 35/40-ish. The term usually qualifies a relationship with someone with no duration specification.
“Mec” (bloke), “nana” (girlfriend), “meuf” (The verlan - meaning a backwards spelling - of “femme”), are all slang terms employed by young people.
People over 50 using the aforementioned terms would sound inappropriate, often interpreted by youngsters as trying to “still be with it.”
“Conjoint” or “conjointe” is also used when referring to more long-term and settled relationships but could also indicate the couple is bound to some kind of a civil union contract like a Pacs or concubinage.
The term “concubin” or “concubine” exists and applies to people bound with “concubinage” contracts (when you officially live with your partner). It is rarely employed in casual conversation except if the person wants to make his/her relationship status clear, for example with administrative clerks.
“Partenaire” could be used when referring to a relationship although the term is more broadly associated with sports or other sorts of activities.
“Compagnon” and its feminine counterpart “compagne” is mostly employed by people over 50. Several people told The Connexion “compagnon” or “compagne” embodied the notion of being “accompanied” by someone with whom you would share every activity.
To make things harder, some people have confessed using the word “femme” or “mari” - despite being not married - to simplify the characterisation of the relationship.
“Ami” is vague and nowadays signifies a friendship. However, the term “ami” to mean a relationship was employed in the past but has faded away. Some may still use the term to conceal their relationship.
When using “ami”, people sometimes add the word “petit” (little) as in “petit ami” or “petite amie” to characterise the loving relationship. It is used by young people.
The term “plan cul” (sometime said in its English form “sexfriend”) refers to a relationship with sexual benefits only.