Updated December 8, 2020

Ring Finger: Which Hand to Wear Wedding and Engagement Ring

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Which one is the engagement ring finger? Do wedding rings go on the right or left hand? Who decides this? Read on for answers plus ways to get your partner's ring size.

Let's start with the basics.

Which Finger Is for the Engagement Ring?

Short answer: wear the engagement ring on the fourth finger of your left hand at least here in the United States.

People in many Eastern European and South America countries opt for the right ring finger. Some religions and cultures pick a different digit altogether.

Clever Ways to Find your Girlfriend's Ring Size

Welcome to the Catch-22 of getting engaged. You want to maintain the surprise, but you don't want a ring so big it doubles as a dog collar. Here are some no-fail* ideas.

(*They might fail…don't blame us.)

  1. Raid the jewelry box: Take a ring your partner normally wears on her left ring finger and get it measured by a jeweler.

    A ring from the right ring finger should also work. It likely won't be more than half a size different.

  2. Trace a current ring: If "stealing" one is out of the question, try borrowing one of her rings long enough to trace it on paper. (Remember to draw the interior and exterior.)

    A good jeweler should be able to estimate the size from there.

    Tip: Surprises are nice but don't go overboard. Find a way to learn your partner's style preferences BEFORE shopping, even if that means tipping your hand. Remember: she'll be wearing that ring every day forever.

  3. Ask family and friends for help: A sister or best friend might already know your partner's size. They'll also have an easier time borrowing a ring without raising suspicion.

    Worst case, they can schedule an impromptu shopping trip and then relay the size back to you. Just be careful who you trust if you want to keep your plans a secret.

  4. Measure the ring on yourself: You can also slip one of her rings on your finger, even if it's just the pinkie. Mark the spot where it sits comfortably.

    Then go to a jeweler and try on sizes until you find one that fits in the same spot.

    What is special about the ring finger? The ring finger's secret power is that it doesn't do much of anything. Because of its placement, the ring finger isn't required for most everyday tasks (except typing).

    As such, a ring on that finger doesn't get in the way while you work.

  5. Catch them sleeping: So now we're getting a little weird. If all else fails, wrap string around your partner's ring finger while she snoozes. Mark the point where the string forms a complete circle.

    Take this to the jeweler and do your best to avoid their look of judgment.

  6. Play it safe: The average woman's ring finger size is 6 or 6.5. It may be best to simply estimate based on that number.

    As long as your partner says yes, you can get the ring resized later.

If you're still having trouble finding the correct size, you can use this ring size tool.

Where To Wear Your Wedding Band?

Brides and grooms both wear the wedding band on their left ring finger.

Tip: For brides, the wedding band sits underneath the engagement ring (nearest to the hand). An easy way to remember this is the wedding ring should be closest to the heart since it symbolizes the love and unity of marriage. (More on that in a minute.)

Read on for ways to avoid ring transfer snafus at your wedding.

  • Wear the engagement ring on the right hand. You can slide it back in place once the wedding band is on.

  • Make a super ring. Some brides get both rings soldered together (with the wedding ring on the bottom). The groom simply slips on one ring during the big moment.

  • Trust your partner's fine motor skills. Keep the engagement ring on the left ring finger. Your partner will slip it off, slide on the wedding band, then put it back on while the whole audience waits.

    No pressure.

  • Skip the wedding ring. Some couples choose to use the engagement ring during the wedding ceremony.

Do I Wear Both Rings After the Wedding?

This one boils down to personal preference. Here are some options:

  • Turn the Engagement Ring into a Necklace: This provides an elegant solution if your hand feels weighed down by both rings.

  • Opt for a Ring on Each Hand: You can wear the wedding ring in the traditional spot on the left ring finger and the engagement ring on the right.

  • Keep the Engagement Ring at Home: Some people can't wear a diamond ring to work, so they just stick with the wedding band as their everyday jewelry.

Keep reading for a little history to help you rock Trivia Night at the local pub.

How did Rings Come to Symbolize Marriage?

Rings, being circular, have no beginning or end. Roughly 5,000 years ago, the Egyptians began using them as tokens of their "endless" love and devotion and Greek and Roman lovers soon followed.

Diamonds on engagement rings didn't catch on until the 1930s, when De Beers Jewelers used a brilliant yet diabolical marketing campaign, to convince everyone that "a diamond is forever."

Tip: Trust your tastes. Engagement rings don't need to have a diamond (sorry, De Beers). If you prefer a different gem (or none at all), then go with that instead. Your ring should reflect your personality and relationship.

Why is the Fourth Finger on the Left Hand the "Ring Finger?"

Historians trace this custom back many centuries, but they don't exactly agree on the reason. Here are some theories:

  • Finger Closest to the Heart: This explanation stems from old fashioned ignorance about how the human body works.

    Ancient Egyptians mistakenly believed a vein in the fourth finger ran directly to the heart. Turns out, there is no such vein. Science is a real romance killer.

    What is the strongest finger on your hand? The middle finger has the biggest effect on the strength of your grip. And it also sends the strongest message, particularly in traffic.

  • Practicality: The fourth finger was rarely used during the very physical work common in ancient times. A ring there wouldn't get in the way.

    They probably chose the left hand for a similar reason—most people are right handed. (Almost 90% for you trivia hounds.)

  • A Command from "Above": Some historians think the tradition may have religious roots.

    When the Anglicans broke away from the Catholic Church in the 1500s, their leaders ordered members to wear wedding rings on the left hand instead of the right hand, like the Catholics did.

    The practice soon "went viral," as the kids definitely DID NOT say back then.

Meaning of Ring on Each Finger

Nowadays most people favor style over symbolism when it comes to ring placement. But historically, where you wore your rings often sent an important message.

  • Thumbs: In the gay community, a thumb ring can serve as a subtle announcement of your orientation AND relationship status. A ring on the right thumb means you're single while one on the left thumb tells the world you're in a relationship.

    Soldiers in ancient China wore ornate glass or jade thumb jewelry as a symbol of their military rank. European men, especially doctors, in the middle ages used them to display their profession.

  • Index fingers: Jews traditionally wore their wedding bands on the right index finger, a practice that continues in some communities today.

    Men in some medieval cultures wore signet or crest rings on the index finger to indicate wealth or status. Others chose the pinkie for this purpose…more on that below.

    Lower class men were banned from wearing rings on their index fingers.

    What does it mean if your index finger is longer than your ring finger?Developmentally, it means that you were exposed to higher levels of testosterone in the womb. Depending on whom you ask, the trait also affects your personality, sexual preferences, athleticism and countless other aspects of your being. But stick to science, people.

  • Middle fingers: A ring here doesn't send any particular message though the middle finger itself certainly does, especially in traffic.

    Many people tend to avoid wearing jewelry on the middle finger because it feels awkward or uncomfortable. If you do opt for a ring, consider a thin band that won't get it the way.

  • Ring fingers: A ring on the left ring finger announces that you're engaged or married, at least in the U.S. and most of Western Europe.

    In other countries throughout Europe and Asia, including Spain, Portugal, Russia and India, those rings go on the right ring finger.

    Women in some cultures wear a promise rings on this finger to tell the world—or just drunk guys in bars—that they're in a serious relationship.

    Men will usually wear a class or fraternity ring on their right ring finger, too.

  • Pinkie fingers: Most people think of mafia movies when it comes to pinkie rings. It is true, if a bit overstated, that a ring on the left pinkie finger can suggest mob ties.

    But in general, pinkie jewelry has been used as a symbol of exclusive status or wealth. Upper-class men and royalty in medieval Europe wore signet or family crest rings on the pinkie. (This tradition continues today in countries like the U.K., where Prince William is sometimes seen with his signet ring.)

    Today, you can still use a pinkie ring to show off your wealth or standing or just as a personal style statement. A tasteful piece of jewelry on your pinkie is a great accent similar to a pair of cufflinks.

    Pinkie rings are usually worn on the non-dominant (left) hand.

Engagement and wedding rings aren't the only jewelry that symbolizes relationships. Keep reading to learn about others.

You can also wear rings to complement each finger's unique qualities:

  • Thumb is typically associated with influence or wealth, independence, and willpower.
  • Index fingers suggest authority, leadership and confidence.
  • Middle finger is all about responsibility, balance and personal goals.
  • Ring fingers symbolize love, affection and relationships.
  • Dainty pinkie fingers connote communication, exclusive status, or business affiliations. Also, promises that junior high school girls must never, ever break.

People throughout history have worn specific rings to send messages. Here are some examples:

  • Promise rings: Dating back to the 1500s, these are sometimes called "pre-engagement" rings. They are worn as a token of a serious romantic relationship, a promise of future commitment.

    Promise rings can be worn on any finger but most women opt for one of the ring fingers. If that promise is fulfilled, the ring can be worn on the right hand and the engagement ring in its proper spot on the left.

    The Irish take on this tradition, called a Claddagh ring, features two hands holding a heart.

    Women wear the heart pointed toward their wrist (symbolically, to their hearts) when dating someone. If they're single, the heart points toward the fingertips.

    Try to determine this without staring for best results.

    What is the weakest finger? There's no clear answer here. People assume the pinkie finger is the weakest. But that's based more on size than science. In fact, the pinkie plays an important role in gripping objects.

    The ring finger has the least amount of individual movement. (Try flexing it without moving your other fingers. Then consider what more productive things you should be doing with your time.)

  • Purity rings: Also called an abstinence or charity ring, this jewelry symbolizes a different kind of promise. The wearer announces their intention to stay "pure" (meaning "No sex for me, please and thank you") until married.

    Unlike the VERY old-fashioned promise ring, these rings came into fashion in the 1990s as a feature of abstinence-based sex education programs.

    They are typically worn by teens and young adults on the left ring finger to express the seriousness of their commitment.

  • Mother's rings: This increasingly popular jewelry consists of gems with the birthstones of the mother's children (and often their inscribed names).

    They can be worn alongside the wedding and engagement rings or beside them on the left middle finger.

  • Eternity rings: These rings are a symbol of everlasting love usually reserved for an important wedding anniversary. In other words, they're the perfect gift for the wife who really likes rings but has run out of reasons to get a new one.

    Eternity rings are usually a gold or platinum band inset with small diamonds. (Some are even shaped to resemble the figure-eight on its side eternity symbol.) Usually, women wear them beside their wedding bands to highlight the fact that their love is forever.

    What is the most sensitive finger on the human hand? Scientists don't know, though there's some evidence that smaller fingers in general are more sensitive.

    We do know the most sensitive part of the finger: the tips.

  • Widow rings: This term used to mean the wedding ring of a married person whose spouse had died.

    Many widows (and widowers) would continue to wear their wedding bands after their loss. Some chose to switch the ring to their right ring finger while others wore them as necklaces.

    In modern times, a new kind of "widow ring" has become popular. It features black gems to represent death and is often made to match the wearer's wedding band.

Not all rings have relationship connotations. Scroll a little further to learn about rings with very different meanings.

Other Types of Rings

Rings may be a popular reminder that love lasts forever but they can also highlight other kinds of relationships. Here are some examples:

  • Class rings: These commemorate graduation from a high school or college. The tradition began in 1835 at West Point Academy.

    Class rings are less popular overall in recent years. However, the tradition remains strong at prestigious institutions, including Ivy-League colleges.

    Men and women can both wear class rings, which usually feature the insignia and colors of their school. Some men also choose to sport fraternity rings as a reminder of their college days.

    They are typically worn on the right ring finger .

    Can Real Gold Can Turn Your Finger Green? Sometimes, yes. That green color comes from your skin reacting with other metals (usually copper or nickel) in the gold, not the gold itself.

    This can happen even with 24 karat "pure gold," since other metals can be added to strengthen it. But it's even more likely with 10 or or 14 karat gold.

  • Signet rings: The signet ring can be traced back to our earliest civilizations and are even mentioned in the Bible.

    Historically, these "gentleman's rings" were status symbols intended to show off the wearer's heritage and high social standing. Unsurprisingly, men in the lower classes were forbidden from wearing them.

    They could be used as seals on important documents. Often, they featured a family coat of arms or initials. Signet rings were sometimes passed on as a family heirloom or destroyed when the wearer died.

    Today, signet rings are still used to symbolize high social standing and royalty in places like Great Britain. But they've also evolved into statements of a man's personal sense of style. They are worn on the pinkie of the non-dominant hand.

  • Birthstone rings: Typically, these are simple pieces of jewelry with a modest-sized stone associated with the birth month of the receiver.

    You can buy more ornate ones, often with inscribed personal messages. Birthstone rings can be worn on any finger.

Ring Finger Tattoos: Alternative to Rings

Forget diamonds—tattoos are REALLY forever.

If you don't want to weigh down your hand with bulky (and expensive) engagement and wedding rings, consider a ring tattoo. There are some definite benefits, including:

  • Originality: You can create any design you'd like. Choose meaningful symbols of your relationship, cute little inside jokes, or even a (short) quotation. You and your partner can even get matching tattoos, just like with traditional wedding bands.

  • Price: A high quality ring tattoo can cost several hundred dollars or more. Compare that to the roughly $6,100 cost of the average engagement ring (plus another couple thousand for wedding bands). Use the savings toward your honeymoon.

  • Less Stress: Ever seen someone melt down after losing their engagement or wedding ring? It's not just the emotional attachment—a lost ring can cost time (if it's insured) or a lot of money (if it's not). As long as you keep your finger, you'll never have to worry about your ring tattoo.

Of course, there are some trade-offs with a ring tattoo.

  • Pain: While everyone's threshold for pain is different, getting a tattoo in a sensitive place like the finger can really hurt. If you've got a phobia about needles, the experience will be even less fun.

  • Permanence: Sure, couples enter marriages expecting them to last forever. But divorce lawyers exist for a reason. Getting a wedding ring tattoo is a lot harder (and costlier) than just slipping off the ring if you and your partner break up.

  • Long Term Appeal: It's easier to take care of a ring than a ring tattoo. The colors may fade and the design can warp over time.

What is the strongest finger on your hand? The middle finger has the biggest effect on the strength of your grip. And it also sends the strongest message, particularly in traffic.

Choosing a ring tattoo can (and should) take as much time as finding an actual engagement or wedding ring.

  1. Start by finding a reputable artist you trust. You can usually research and finds reviews online.

  2. Discuss and brainstorm design options with your partner. Use it as a bonding experience amidst all the other wedding prep-related chaos.

  3. Schedule the appointment a few weeks BEFORE the wedding. You'll want to be at your best on the big day and a throbbing or numb finger won't help.

Remember, just like with traditional wedding jewelry, tattoo rings are meant to represent YOUR unique relationship.

Bottom Line

Engagement and wedding rings aren't the only kinds of jewelry that send a message. In fact, people have been wearing rings of all sorts since before the Pyramids were built.

Remember: it's not just the kind of ring that matters, but where you wear it as well. For engagement and wedding rings (at least in the U.S.), they go on the fourth finger of the left hand.

Write to Kyle Schurman at feedback@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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