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Some common words are 先生 or 老公,

Are there any other options that would be more socially appropriate?

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6 Answers 6

老公 is more for casual conversation. e.g. 這是我老公

先生 can be used in a more formal situation. e.g. 這是我先生

In a even more formal situation, you can use 外子. e.g. 這是外子

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外子 sounds too old-style to me. –  Stan Apr 24 at 8:22
    
In a very formal situation, it is still something being used. 老公 is simply too casual –  Adrian Shum Apr 24 at 8:24
    
and, imho, it is really a pity that modern mainland china has lost a lot of polite and elegant language elements. The way to call someone is a good example. –  Adrian Shum Apr 24 at 8:27
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Being a Chinese, i can say that 老公 is not casual. 老公 is most commonly used phrase to introduce husband. and 外子 is not used nowadays, only in Song Dynasty and the old times –  Newman Apr 24 at 12:23
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Being a Chinese, I can say 老公 is really casual. Yes, you use 老公 for informal conversation to introduce husband, that's just like saying: this is my hubby. You can say it in most situation, it doesn't mean it is formal. 外子 is also not that ancient. I do heard people using this term 10 years before, and even now, if you are in a really formal situation and you want to show respect to the people you are having conversation with (e.g. with a well-educated elderly), using 外子 is still a wise choice. –  Adrian Shum Apr 25 at 5:30

more socially appropriate? Probably no one can beat "老公" now.

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老公 is the most commonly used words in both mandarin and Cantonese, we usually introduce or describe husband using "這是我的老公。".
As 先生 in Cantonese can also means teacher, so the most appropriate is "呢位係我老公。" In formal written language, 丈夫 also means husband but it is not used in spoken language.

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(Old Beijing dialect)

-这 我们 家 挣钱的/管事儿的/拿主意的。/这 (孩儿)他爸。(husband)

-这 我们 家 掌柜的/管账的。/这 (孩儿)他妈。(wife)

(for old people, generally above 50 yrs old)

-这 是 我 老伴儿。

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孩子他爸....good one! –  user3306356 Apr 25 at 6:08
    
对,“孩儿他爸”,or “我那口子” are all casual sayings among very close friends, to sound “亲切”. “先生” & “外子” are more "borrowed" from Taiwan's saying. –  xpt May 4 at 19:31

我家死鬼 might be an interesting one. Literally it means "my house dead ghost". It is used usually in a teasing way when mentioning "husband" to a close friend.

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As the matter of fact, this question, and the Can we call someone X太太 or not? one, has a common answer in mainland China, at least for the past 40~50 years since "New China" -- it's “爱人”. Both “爱人” & “同志”, were commonly used to address people after year 1949 in mainland China.

Unfortunately it has been viciously attacked and jeered by the HK & TW people, now “爱人”/“同志” are mostly abandoned/avoided. I'm not blaming people here. This is only the sad part of the Chinese language history. For example, I myself would avoid the term “太太”,because it has been negatively associated with “官太太”, “姨太太” in mainland China for a very long time (40~50 years after 1949). This is the main reason that we suddenly feel that that there is no proper ways to say husband/wife in China. “老公”,“老婆” maybe a formal way to address people in some area, but in mainland China, especially the norther side, it is widely regarded as “乡下话”, thus only used informally.

“爱人” can be used both formally in the newspaper and casually among friends. I still think “爱人” is a good answer. Some people demean it by saying it means "lover". But I'd say that is a deliberated disgracing, because "lover" has a proper Chinese translation for very very long time -- “情人”. The proper translation of “爱人” is "beloved significant other", a marvelous word that has no western counterpart.

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同志 can't be used as a term for husband/wife; I'm not sure if it ever was used this way. Just making this clear as your wording may have implied this. –  congusbongus May 5 at 4:35
    
your are right, 同志 was only used to address people that have no relation with you or your friend/relatives, i.e., a perfect way to address a perfect stranger. But its meaning is entirely changed (negatively) in nowadays usage. –  xpt May 5 at 12:57

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