difference between relationship and affair?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Red chili, Feb 8, 2011.

  1. Red chili New Member

    CHINESE MANDARIN
    When 2 persons are in love. How do you define the words between
    " relationship " and " affair " ?
     
  2. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Stoke on Trent
    England and English
    Affair is usualy kept for something which is slightly illicit, for instance if one of them is married or they work in a place where relationships between co-workers are forbidden.

    Relationship is widely used but it can also be used for contexts which are not romantic pairings.
     
  3. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    "Relationship" is broader than "affair." I was in a relationship with my wife for several years before we got married. We didn't have an affair, since we were both single when we met. The previous post is correct in that regard.

    However, I don't think workplace rules determine whether a relationship is an affair or not. The main criterion, to me, would be that one or both of the people are married or there is some other reason that the relationship itself is improper.

    I wouldn't use "relationship" when a couple is engaged (or married).

    Also, "affair" implies a relationship that goes on for some time. Sleeping with someone once is not an affair. The term "one-night stand" is sometimes used.
     
  4. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Stoke on Trent
    England and English
    I've certainly heard it used the way I suggest, in the office ... it is to do with the idea of having to hide what you are up to, I imagine.
     
  5. sandpiperlily

    sandpiperlily Senior Member

    Yes, I agree that "affair" generally means that there is something illegal or unethical going on. Usually it's used for a cheating spouse or partner, but could also be used in the context of an illicit office romance, or a relationship with an authority figure (a teacher could have an "affair" with a student even if both were single).

    What's confusing is that sometimes the word "affair" is used when there's nothing illicit going on, to describe a particularly passionate (and usually brief) relationship. People my age don't really use it this way, at least in the US, but you might see it in a romance novel or an old-fashioned text.
     
  6. They don't have to be in love to have either a relationship or an affair.

    Mutual sexual attraction is a good enough reason.

    Rover
     
  7. sandpiperlily

    sandpiperlily Senior Member

    Very true! My understanding was that the OP specified "in love" to avoid the discussion of other meanings of the word "relationship" (between friends, business associates, countries, etc), and "affair" (scandal, business interest, etc).
     
  8. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    It should also be added that "affair" is rather an old-fashioned word. It's what that fellow who briefly ruled Britain back in the 1930s had with Wallis Simpson. I can't recall anyone's using it to describe goings-on involving anyone I've actually known, and I'm no youngster.
     
  9. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Stoke on Trent
    England and English
    Interesting point, Parla, I was thinking along those lines myself but I googled it earlier and was surprised to see how widely used it still is!
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2011
  10. sandpiperlily

    sandpiperlily Senior Member

    I would still use this word, and I don't see it as particularly old fashioned. If my boyfriend were to cheat on me a number of times with the same lady, I'd definitely accuse him of having an affair.
     
  11. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    Of course many Google results are either (a) quotes from books or (b) copies of other Google results. (All of the posts in this forum, you know, are caught up in Google's net.) No telling how many are in fact contemporary published originals.
     
  12. I think that "affair" with the specific meaning of an ongoing adulterous relationship is still alive and well. It might also be applied, as sandpiperlily says, when one of the parties to the affair is in a long-term committed relationship, even if they are not married.

    Where "affair" has become dated, in my opinion, is in situations that do not involve adultery.

    If I heard that a man was having an affair with his secretary, I would assume that one or both were married (to other people, obviously :)). To me, the relationship would not be an affair if they were both single, even though it might be illicit in some other way.

    The "ongoing" part is key, too. Affairs go on for a while. A one-night stand is not an affair. A few weeks of extramarital sex is not an affair. (We might call the latter a "fling.")
     
  13. Red chili New Member

    CHINESE MANDARIN
    Would it be affair is less serious and less responsibility than in relationship?
     
  14. sandpiperlily

    sandpiperlily Senior Member

    It depends. In the illicit sense of the term, then yes, it would usually be less serious and less responsibility just by virtue of being secretive. In the non-illicit sense ("she had a passionate affair with a frenchman") I usually think of it being very emotional or sexual, but not involving long-term commitment or responsibility. Once an affair becomes non-secret or non-short-term, it ceases to be an affair in my opinion.
     
  15. No. An affair is a relationship. Affairs are a subset of the larger group consisting of all types of romantic/sexual/emotional relationships. Besides, people who have affairs often take them (and each other) very seriously and feel a strong responsibility for each other, even though one or both of them are married to other people.
     
  16. sandpiperlily

    sandpiperlily Senior Member

    This is a good point. I think what's causing some confusion here is the different meanings of the word "relationship" in English:

    1. Any relationship between two people, including family relationships, sexual relationships, romantic relationships, etc. An affair is a type of relationship.

    2. One particular kind of relationship, often just called "a relationship," that is usually romantic and sexual in nature, and exclusive. If you say that two people "are in a relationship," it usually means that they are dating exclusively. This type of relationship is NOT an affair.

    In my post above, I was using the second definition, saying that being in "an affair" would usually require less commitment than "being in a relationship." However, I believe "a little edgy" had the first definition in mind, in which "affair" is a subset of the "relationship" category.
     
  17. Red chili New Member

    CHINESE MANDARIN
    This is my first time in wordreference forum and thank you for all your help. See you around and have a great weekend.
     
  18. suzi br

    suzi br Senior Member

    Stoke on Trent
    England and English
    Well, since I am not a novice in Google using, the proliferation of uses in contemporary magazines was evident /surprising to me.
     

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