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An engagement is a promise to marry, and also the period of time between proposal and marriage – which may be lengthy or trivial. During this period, a couple is said to be affianced, betrothed, engaged to be married, or simply engaged. Future brides and grooms are often referred to as fiancées or fiancés respectively (from the French word fiancé). The duration of the courtship varies vastly.

Long engagements were once common in formal arranged marriages and it was not uncommon for parents betrothing children to arrange such many years before the engaged couple were old enough to marry. In 2007, the average engagement time in the United States was 17 months,[1] but the figure around the world varies greatly depending on culture and customs.



The concept of an official engagement period in Western culture may have begun in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council, headed by Pope Innocent III, which decreed that "marriages are to be ... announced publicly in the churches by the priests during a suitable and fixed time, so that if legitimate impediments exist, they may be made known."[2][3] Such a formal church announcement of the intent to marry is known as banns. In some jurisdictions, reading the banns may be part of one type of legal marriage.


Betrothal (also called espousal) is a formal state of engagement to be married.

Historically betrothal was a formal contract considered as binding as marriage, and a divorce was necessary to terminate a betrothal.[4] Betrothed couples were regarded legally as husband and wife - even before their wedding and physical union.

In Jewish weddings the betrothal is now generally part of the Jewish wedding ceremony, and is known as erusin or kiddushin; it is accomplished when the groom gives the bride the ring or another object of at least nominal value.[5] Typical steps of a betrothal were the following:

  • Usually done by the couple's families with bride and groom having no input.
    • This is no longer widely practised, with the exception of a small number of cultural communities (e.g. limited groups of conservatives in Israel, India), and most of these have a requirement that the bride be at least allowed veto power.
  • Negotiation of bride price or dowry
    • In modern practice these have been reduced to the symbolic engagement ring
  • Blessing by clergy
  • Exchange of Vows and Signing of Contracts
    • Often one of these is omitted
  • Celebration

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