Pitfalls: “Married TO,” Not “Married WITH”

warning symbol of exclamation point in triangle, by zeimusu at openclipart.org

She is married to him. He was the first in his family to get married to someone from another country. Two of my friends would like to be married to each other, but it’s still not legal in this state, because they are both men.
heart with scroll, saying “married TO,” based on an image by Andy at openclipart.org

In these sentences and others, referring to the state of being married, the correct phrase is “married to.” However, many English learners say “married with.” This common preposition mistake won’t confuse listeners or readers too much. After all, your meaning is still clear. However, it may make the listener or reader pause momentarily, because this phrase isn’t part of standard American English.

The reason this mistake is so common is because many other languages use a preposition meaning “with”–and really, it makes more sense! Unfortunately, preposition choice is rarely based on logic, so it’s just a rule that has to be memorized. “Engaged” works the same way when referring to “promising to marry each other in the future”: She is engaged to him, etc. The noun “marriage,” on the other hand, usually is found as “marriage to” (7 million English Google hits) but may sometimes occur as “marriage with” (less than 3 million hits).

When you are referring to the actual act of getting married, you don’t need any preposition at all: She married him on August 20, 2003. He was the first in his family to marry someone from another country. Two of my friends would like to marry each other someday.

“Dating” is similar–I have heard even advanced non-native English speakers say “she is dating with him,” but this is never correct in American English. Instead, simply say: She won’t date sexist men. They dated each other for three years before deciding to get married. Are Pat and Leslie dating? etc.

(I know these rules are confusing. Prepositions are one specific area that I think is helped by reading a lot: once you’ve seen “married to” thousands of times in your reading, you’re likely to say it correctly without having to think about it!)

8 thoughts on “Pitfalls: “Married TO,” Not “Married WITH””

  1. You’ve been busy! This is a great tip! I’m totally giving my students your website next semester. This is one of those particular lessons that’s hard to explain since saying “with” really would make more sense. Ah the complexities of the English language!

  2. I’m trying to make up for lost time! ;)

    It really clicked with me when, in one of the grammar books we used at CSUEB, I read that “Prepositions in English are largely idiomatic.” It’s totally true.

    Thanks for passing the link along! I’ve gotten a lot of hits from China and it makes my day to see the numbers go up.

  3. What about:
    …the marriage of their daughter Susy “to” Billy Smith…
    as opposed to

    …the marriage of their daughter Susy “and” Billy Smith …
    in wedding invitations

    Any comments?

  4. Sure. This is a different case because it involves the noun, “marriage,” not the verb, “marry.” However, the preposition “to” is still used more frequently than the conjunction “and” as far as I know. There might be some regional preference for one over the other.

  5. Thank you for this post. I’m wondering if you know an answer to a related question, if it’s not too late to ask three years after your original posting.
    I’ve been trying to figure out if an English speaking child would be likely to make such a mistake, i.e. to say “married with”. What is your opinion about it? (I’m trying to find an English equivalent for a translation where in the original a child makes a grammar mistake when speaking about marriage in Russian). Thanks, Eli.

  6. I’m really sorry for the delay. It’s possible if “with” is more common than “to” in English, but I think “to” is more common, so I don’t actually think it’s likely. Hmm. Interesting question! Well, you know, on second thought, it might be possible — most other “activity” words use “with” in English, so if the kid is very young and knows other words like “play ball with” and “eat lunch with,” and thinks of marriage as a very simple activity like that, I do think it’s possible! Only for a very small child, though. I’m sorry that my answer is probably useless at this point.

  7. Thank you so much! Now I believe that the child in question is too old for such a mistake. I really appreciate your help :)

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