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What are you called after your wife dies?

Losing a spouse is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. When your wife passes away, you are left navigating profound grief while also adjusting to a new identity and role in life. There are a few different terms used to describe a man after the death of his wife.


The most common and widely used term is “widower.” This simply refers to a man whose spouse has died and who has not remarried. It is the male equivalent of the term “widow.” After a wife’s death, her husband is considered a widower.

Origin and History

The word widower dates back to Middle English, first appearing in the 14th century. It comes from the Old English word “widuwe” meaning “one devoid of a spouse.” Over time, the spelling evolved into “widower.” While the term may seem formal or old-fashioned, it remains the standard universal word referring to a man whose wife has passed away.


Widower is appropriate in both formal and informal contexts. It can be used in legal documents, obituaries, condolence messages, and everyday speech. For example:

  • “After Mary’s passing last year, John has been living as a widower.”
  • “The widower is accompanied by his two children.”
  • “We should reach out to the neighborhood’s widowers to let them know about the grief support group.”

Surviving Spouse

“Surviving spouse” is a less commonly used but accurate term. It emphasizes that the husband is still living after his wife’s death. This phrase highlights that while he endures the loss of his spouse, he continues on.

Origin and History

This term grew in usage in the mid-20th century. It appeared more regularly in legal contexts, describing the husband left living after the death of his wife. Using “surviving spouse” ensured precision when discussing legal, financial, and estate matters.


“Surviving spouse” still occurs primarily in formal paperwork and legal language. For example:

  • “The surviving spouse will inherit the estate.”
  • “As her surviving spouse, he is entitled to benefits.”
  • “The surviving spouse wished to thank the hospice staff for their care.”

Widowed Husband

Adding “widowed” before “husband” specifies the loss he has experienced. This phrasing may occur in condolence messages and cards expressing sympathy and support.

Origin and History

The construction of “widowed husband” grew from the desire to directly acknowledge the bereavement of the remaining husband. “Widowed” modifies “husband” to communicate empathy.


This term most often appears in sentiments offering condolences. For example:

  • “We hope you find comfort during this difficult time, widowed husband.”
  • “Sending strength to you, widowed husband, as you grieve.”
  • “You are in our thoughts and prayers, widowed husband.”

Bereaved Husband

“Bereaved husband” similarly expresses sympathy and understanding. “Bereaved” means deeply saddened, especially by death. This emphasizes the grief the surviving husband feels.

Origin and History

Like “widowed husband,” this grew from wishing to acknowledge the profound loss experienced by the husband. It offers empathy and compassion.


This phrase most frequently appears in condolences and contexts emphasizing care for the grief-stricken husband. For example:

  • “Please accept our condolences, bereaved husband, on the loss of your wife.”
  • “We hope our baking brings some comfort to you, bereaved husband, during this enormously difficult time.”
  • “You have our full support, bereaved husband, if you wish to join a grief counseling group.”


In casual contexts, referring to the husband simply as “single” expresses his current relationship status. It communicates his wife has passed and he has not remarried.

Origin and History

Calling a widower “single” grew from the meaning of being unmarried or not involved romantically with a partner. After a wife dies, the husband becomes single again.


This occurs in informal situations among family, friends, and acquaintances. For example:

  • “How is John doing now that he’s single?”
  • “Being newly single after 25 years of marriage must feel very strange.”
  • “We should set up Bill with some single friends now that he’s single again.”

Other Terms

A few other phrases may be used, though these are less common:

  • Late wife’s husband – Explicitly states his connection to his deceased wife.
  • Spouse-less – Indicates he no longer has a spouse.
  • Unmarried – Stresses his current unmarried status.

Sensitivity is key

When referring to a man whose wife has passed, empathy and compassion should guide word choice. The bereaved husband is coping with devastating grief. Any labels or terms should honor that reality.

The grieving process varies for each person

There is no “right” way to grieve or standardized timeline. Each husband will grapple with loss differently. Patience, understanding, and sensitivity are paramount when using any terminology after a wife’s passing.


In summary, “widower” remains the most universally accepted and inoffensive term for a man whose wife has died. Phrases like “bereaved husband” or “surviving spouse” often suit formal contexts emphasizing the loss he has endured. More casual situations allow the simplicity of words like “single.” The appropriateness of terminology also depends on his personal preferences. Overall, discretion and compassion should guide discussions with a husband grieving the death of his beloved wife.