Deciphering Wedding Invitation Phrasing

A wedding invitation envelope with a wax seal against a tree with spring blooms.

A wedding invitation can give you a lot of information, even if it doesn’t explicitly say certain things. You can infer certain details by learning about common invitation etiquette and phrasing. As an invitee, it’s important to understand what to expect so that you can be a great guest, and so you’ll have a fantastic time yourself. If you’re writing invitations for your own wedding, you can look to this as a way to make your invitations easier to read. Here’s a low-down on some common rules and terms.

Who’s Hosting?

The first line or two in the wedding invitation will share information about who’s inviting you to the wedding. They are the hosts. Traditionally, this would be the bride’s parents, but it also might be the groom’s family, the couple itself, or all of the above. It might even be a different family member! The phrase “together with their parents/families” signifies that everyone will be contributing to the celebration.

Who’s Invited?

A young female wedding guest sitting at a reception table.

This is important. Only the people mentioned on the invitation are technically invited to the wedding. If the invitation is addressed only to you, without any mention of a “plus one,” then only you are expected to come. However, if you think they made a mistake, such as forgetting your husband or wife, you can double-check with the couple. The addition of “and family” after your name(s) means that everyone in your immediate family is invited, even the kids. Make sure to keep an eye out for any words similar to “adult-only” or “child-free” and respect the couple’s wishes. Note that some couples may extend the invitation to everyone for the ceremony, but limit the reception to adults only.

Where Are the Festivities?

A sign at a wedding reception pointing to the cocktail hour, photo zone, and ceremony locations.

You might receive an invitation to both the ceremony and the reception, or it might be the reception alone. A very formal invitation might provide reception details on a separate card. The phrasing of the invitation will tell you a bit about the ceremony venue. For example, the words “request the honor of your presence” suggests a church setting, while the “pleasure of your company” typically signifies a non-religious location. If you’re invited to both, the whereabouts of the ceremony will be listed first, followed by the location of the reception. If the two events are at the same place, the invitation will say something like “reception to follow” or “dinner and dancing to follow.” This phrasing also means that the reception will happen immediately after. Should there be a break between the ceremony and the reception, the invitation will likely provide a starting time for both.

When Do I RSVP?

The RSVP date on the invitation is the day the couple expects to know your answer—not the last date to mail out your response. Don’t fret if there’s no card to send back. It’s becoming popular to RSVP via a wedding website or other electronic means, in which case instructions to do so will be provided. However, should the couple do things the old fashioned way, always return the RSVP card either by post or in person. Calling them to say you’re coming is not enough.

What Do I Wear?

Wedding guests at a reception.

Dress codes are normally placed in the lower right corner on a traditional invitation or mentioned alongside the reception details. If nothing is said, one can use the invitation itself as a guide. On a scale from casual to white tie, how formal is the invitation? And if you’re completely confused, just call the couple to confirm. One thing to note is the word “optional.” An invitation with the dress code “black tie optional” does not mean you can decide between a tux and jeans. Rather, it gives you some flexibility in just how formal you want to be. If you don’t have a tuxedo, for example, you’re allowed to wear a suit instead.

What Does “Cocktail Hour” Mean?

A wedding guest being served a drink at the cocktail hour.

If the invitation mentions only cocktails and appetizers, know that no full meal with be served. Rather, it’ll be drinks and light bites or a more casual set-up. However, some couples do have a cocktail hour between the ceremony and reception as a break period, in which case the reception or dinner details will be given as well.

What if I Still Have Questions?

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so when in doubt ask the couple if you have a specific question you can’t otherwise find the answer to. Keep in mind that if the wedding is still months away, they might not know all the details themselves. So, if you can hold your horses, your questions might get answered without any inquiries.

Many people choose to have a wedding website to make things easier for the guests. If the couple lists one, visit it in search of answers. It should be able to tell you everything you need to know. Either way, expect that most couples will also update their guests about the day-of program closer to the date.

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