Everything You Need to Know About Ring Fingers

We're uncovering the history behind the age-old custom

bride placing engagement ring on ring finger

Sara Lobla

If someone asked you at age eight, "What finger does the wedding ring go on?" you probably knew the answer. It's pretty common for most people, particularly in the United States, to sport their wedding ring on the left ring finger. But why is the wedding ring worn on the "ring finger" in the first place? And do brides and grooms absolutely have to?

What Is the Ring Finger?

The ring finger is, in many Western countries, the fourth finger on the left hand. It is believed that the tradition originated because this finger has a vein that runs directly to the heart. However, the ring finger is not the same in all countries and cultures.

"Historically, wedding rings have been documented to be worn on every finger, even the thumb," says Stephanie Selle, owner of With These Rings. "Today, wedding rings are most commonly worn on the fourth finger of the left hand. But some countries including India, Germany, Spain, Norway, and Russia traditionally wear their wedding rings on their right hand."

Overall, it seems cultural traditions and norms set the standard for which fingers wedding rings are worn on. "It's interesting that with all of the wedding traditions and trends that people decide to make their own in some way, the ring finger is one that most people keep," notes Selle. 

Meet the Expert

Stephanie Selle is a jeweler who specializes in teaching couples to make their own wedding rings in her workshop, With These Rings. She has been studying the history and symbolism of jewelry for over 20 years.

Let's delve into the intriguing story behind traditional ring finger placement and why you might choose (or not choose) to follow this custom. Plus, uncover other commonly asked questions and the traditions behind engagement and promise rings.

The History and Meaning of the Ring Finger

The story of why the wedding ring is worn on the fourth finger from the right on the left hand can be traced back to ancient times. "According to legend, it was believed the ring finger had a vein that connected directly to the heart, so lovers' hearts would be connected by their rings. The early Romans called this the Vena Amoris (Vein of Love)," notes Selle. Naturally, to solidify a union based on love, they'd place the ring on that finger that housed the vein of love to signify the romance that the newly married couple shared. A pretty adorable physical representation of two hearts being connected, don't you think?

Unfortunately, our modern-day understanding of biology suggests all your fingers have vein connections to the heart. Yet, tradition still holds true for many couples who designate their left hand ring finger as the ideal finger to signify their commitment to each other.

Ring Finger FAQs

In What Order Should I Place Rings on My Ring Finger?

If you've decided to wear your engagement and wedding rings on the same finger, you're now wondering about stacking. Married duos conventionally wear their wedding bands closest to their hearts, meaning they're the bottom stack, below the engagement ring, pushed towards the base of your knuckle. If you want to honor this on your actual wedding day, the most popular strategy is to switch over your engagement ring to your right hand right before you walk down the aisle. Now your spouse-to-be can slide the band right up your left finger, and can then top it off with the engagement ring during the ceremony, or later on. There are brides who, either in an attempt to save themselves some trouble or enact another "marital bond" metaphor, have the wedding and engagement rings soldered together into one jewelry piece.

Can I Wear My Wedding Ring and Engagement Ring on Different Hands?

Absolutely! The preference of which hand you wear your rings on often comes down to personal or cultural preference. Some women opt to wear their wedding ring on the left ring finger and their engagement ring on the right ring finger.

Can I Wear Rings on My Ring Finger If I'm Not Engaged or Married?

An old wives' tale denotes that wearing a non-committal ring on your left-hand ring finger could be bad luck. Not the superstitious type? If the ring fits, wear it! That being said, wearing a ring on your ring finger could signify to other people that you are in a committed relationship, which might not be ideal if you're in the dating scene.

Is It Okay to Wear Rings on My Ring Finger All the Time?

It might be tempting to keep your beautiful rings on your fingers at all times. However, you'll want to avoid any potential damage to the ring that might be caused by sleeping with it on during the night. Removing your rings at night will also thwart any issues from your fingers swelling.

How Do I Measure the Size of My Ring Finger?

Believe it or not, there are many factors to consider when sizing for a ring such as your finger shape and lifestyle habits. If you feel unsure about your ring size, consider getting professionally measured.

"I have worked with many couples who decided to forgo an engagement ring and instead wear their bands on their right hands while they were engaged and then on their wedding day switching the same band to the left hand," says Selle. "If you are considering this, it is important to take into account that both fingers might not be the same size."

How to Follow the Ring Finger Tradition

From wedding rings to finger tattoos, there are different ways to adorn your ring finger in order to express your commitment of love to your partner.

The Wedding Ring

As mentioned before, wedding rings are most often worn on the fourth finger from the right on the left hand, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom.

You're welcome to wear your wedding ring on the right hand ring finger. In doing so, you'd be following the example of many central and northern European couples. The list includes Norway, Austria, Denmark, Poland, Belgium (some areas), Germany, Russia, Latvia, Bulgaria, and Ukraine.

And while contemporary Greek couples living in Western cultures often slip rings on the left, Greek brides and grooms have historically worn right-handed wedding rings. Orthodox Christians, too, customarily wore bands on the right.

In India, the left hand was once considered both unclean and unlucky, so wedding rings were worn on the right. But nowadays, either hand can be a home for wedding baubles.

Consider your own cultural and/or personal preferences when choosing your wedding ring finger, whether it be on your left or right hand.

The Engagement Ring

True to tradition, the newly-engaged have also taken to wearing the engagement ring on the left ring finger (commonly referred to as the engagement ring finger). Interestingly, many of the people in Europe who choose to wear their wedding rings on the right hand's ring finger, still wear their engagement ring on the left and then transfer it over.

Betrothed couples in Colombia and Brazil often wear bands as engagement rings on their right hands, and after completing their vows, move rings to the left hand. In Germany and the Netherlands, they may do the opposite—positioning engagement rings on the left hand and then wedding rings on the right.

Today, especially within same-sex marriages, men have begun wearing engagement rings. "Same-sex couples sometimes choose to use the ring finger on the right hand for engagement and wedding bands since it's similar, but not identical to the heterosexual practice, according to GayWeddings.com. "Others, however, embrace the traditional practice of using the ring finger of the left hand. We have also known of folks who have used other fingers; some have chosen the same finger and other couples have each picked a finger and not matched."

Swedish brides might wear unique wedding ring sets, made up of an engagement ring, wedding band, and the ring of motherhood.

The Promise Ring

The actual "promises" of a promise ring take many different forms. Commitment is the general idea here, but whether that commitment is to an upcoming engagement, abstinence until marriage, forever, or just the immediate future varies. But in any case, now there's an indicator, a few steps up from a high school class ring, to the outside world.

The practice of promise rings could also arguably be traced back to ancient Roman times when "betrothal rings" were made out of inexpensive iron. Next up in history came the "posie rings" of England during the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. These round tokens sometimes had short love-poem inscriptions on their insides or outsides.

As we've noted, the contemporary ring's purpose and design span the spectrum. An article from EngravedStyle.com, says the most common sentiments signified by a promise ring nowadays include:

  • Pre-engagement
  • Purity/Chastity Purposes
  • Exclusive Monogamy
  • Friendship
  • Personal Promises (Reminders to the wearer of a promise or commitment he/she made to a personal cause or goal)

"Now, on which finger does a promise ring go?" you're asking. As always, there is no rule. But one line of thinking is that whichever finger you've designated as your "engagement and/or wedding ring finger" holds the greatest significance.

Is your promise ring commitment worthy of said designation, and are you alright with it most often being mistaken for a different type of ring? If not, choose another digit.

No Ring

Finally, let's talk about wearing rings in the first place. This is yet another situation in which it's completely up to the personal preferences of you and your spouse. Rings are a nice way to symbolize your union, and they've got those "endless" and "no beginning and no end" circle metaphors making a solid case for them. But you've got options. Or if you're seriously committed to an expression of permanence and self-sacrifice, nontraditional couples may opt to get a tattoo on their ring fingers to signify their marriage. But know that in this instance, you'd better be confident in your designation of the vein/finger/hand that will bear your display of commitment when it's no longer a simple slip-on, slip-off kind of thing.

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