Promise Ring vs. Engagement Ring: 5 Key Differences

In our society, one of the greatest and well-known material symbols of a couple’s love is a ring. A ring signifies their commitment to each other. However, buying a ring can quickly become intimidating if you don’t know which type to buy.

What’s the difference between promise ring and engagement ring? Promise rings and engagement rings have five main differences: purpose, appearance, cost, manner of giving, and etiquette. Amid these differences, both promise rings and engagement rings are a symbol of love and commitment to your partner.

These differences may help guide you as you decide which ring is right for you and your partner. Frequently asked questions are also answered below.

Promise Ring vs Engagement Ring (Breakdown)

Promise Ring Characteristic Engagement Ring
It depends on the couple themselves, usually to pledge their commitment to one another Purpose To ask one’s partner if they want to get married
Simpler in design Appearance It has a more elaborate design; typically has a gemstone
$400 on average Cost $3,800 to $6000 on average
Typically more relaxed and low-key Manner of Giving Requires more planning and forethought
Any finger on any hand; may also be worn as a necklace Etiquette Worn on the ring finger of the left hand

The table above is a summary of the differences between promise rings and engagement rings. These differences will be explained and expounded with further information below.

Differences Between Promise Ring and Engagement Ring


man ring woman

The purpose of a promise ring is different for each couple. In fact, its purpose depends on what the couple wants it to be. Here are some examples of what a promise ring can symbolize:

  • You and your partner are committed to each other, but the circumstances (e.g., timing, age, finances, etc.) are not yet right to take your relationship to the next stage.
  • Your relationship is becoming more serious, and you want to show your partner how significant they are in your life.
  • If you and your partner are in a long-distance relationship, a promise ring can signify that despite how many miles apart you are, you are faithful to each other.
  • You want to celebrate a momentous achievement or milestone, such as an anniversary.
  • While having another meaning, promise rings can also act as a pledge of abstinence. This is particularly common in couples who are devoted to a religion that denounces premarital sex. However, it is essential to note that a ring whose sole purpose is a pledge of abstinence is called a purity ring.
  • Promise rings can also be given to a best friend as a declaration of love, support, and lifelong friendship.

The purpose of an engagement ring, on the other hand, is straightforward: you want to ask your partner to get married.

However, this is not to say that your engagement ring cannot signify a lifelong commitment to or a deep love for your partner. After all, that is one of the reasons why you want to marry them in the first place.

With that being said, the main difference lies in the engagement ring’s intent to get married. Whereas promise rings may express the promise of marriage, engagement rings make good on that promise.


luxurious rings

A promise ring generally has simpler and less elaborate designs. There is a lot more flexibility to the style of a promise ring. Besides the traditional gold, platinum, or silver, a promise ring can be made of any material such as glass, wood, ceramic, and silicone. Additionally, a promise ring often has no stones; if it does, birthstones are more commonly used than gemstones.

Oppositely, an engagement ring typically has more ornate and complex designs. Gold and platinum are the most common material for the band. The diamond solitaire style is a popular and timeless style. Other gemstones can also be used.


ring in box

Given that promise rings typically have simpler designs, they generally cost cheaper than engagement rings. Plain promise rings can cost as little as $40, and those with birthstones are as cheap as $60. On average, a couple might spend up to $400 on promise rings.

Collating the findings of multiple studies in 2020, such as the American Wedding Study and The Knot 2020 Jewelry and Engagement Study, it was found that, on average, couples spent around $3,756 to $5,500 on their engagement ring.

However, both promise rings and engagement rings’ prices can increase depending on the customizations you avail. The more complex and complicated the design, the more expensive the final product will be. This also influences how much it would cost to resize the ring.

Manner of Giving

man giving ring

Given that a promise ring does not necessarily mark a change in the couple’s life in the way that an engagement ring would, giving your partner a promise ring is a relaxed and low-key affair. It can be done even in the most mundane moments, such as while watching a movie in your living room, lounging in bed, or in the car after work.

In giving your partner a promise ring, you must make your intentions clear. They may mistake it for an engagement ring and assume that you are proposing. This can be avoided by explaining the purpose of the ring as you are handing it to them. Additionally, you may want to avoid kneeling as you do so, as this is heavily associated with proposals.

Engagement rings, however, may require more planning and forethought. You or your partner might book a dinner in a fancy restaurant, organize a surprise party, or get down on one knee somewhere special for both of you. On many occasions, close friends and family members are in on the engagement. They may help out in aspects such as figuring out the other’s ring size, coming up with an engagement hashtag, and more.


showing off ring

Customs dictate that engagement rings be worn on the ring finger of the left hand. This is due to the belief that the aforementioned finger is the most closely connected finger to the heart.

Although it is also common to wear promise rings on the ring finger of the left hand, couples have more freedom to choose how they want to wear it. Any finger on any hand is an acceptable option. Promise rings with a message engraved inside can be worn as a pendant on a necklace.

Once the proposal is made, couples typically transfer the promise ring to the ring finger of the right hand so that the engagement ring could be worn in its place.

How to Decide Which Ring to Give to Your Partner

Picking which ring is perfect for the occasion can be an intimidating and challenging task. Here are some things to consider to make it easier to come up with a decision.

A promise ring may be more apt if:

  • The relationship is less than six months old.
  • You and your partner believe you are too young to get married.
  • You want to wait a little longer to pop the question. The reason could be financial constraints, major life events, health reasons, and so on.
  • You are still unsure about a lifetime commitment. However, you want to let each other know that your relationship is exclusive and monogamous.
  • You want to let the world know that you are in a committed and monogamous relationship, although not an engagement.

Conversely, an engagement ring may be the right choice if:

  • The relationship has lasted long enough that you and your partner know each other well.
  • You are sure and dedicated to having a lifelong commitment.
  • You are physically, emotionally, and financially capable of having a healthy and successful marriage.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Promise Rings and Engagement Rings Interchangeable?

In the literal sense, a promise ring can be used as the engagement ring as well. Some couples may opt to do this to further reduce costs, as engagement rings tend to be expensive.

The terms themselves cannot be used interchangeably. As illustrated above, promise rings and engagement rings have many differences in their purpose, appearance, cost, manner of giving, and etiquette. As such, they do not mean and refer to the same thing.

Do I Have to Give my Partner a Promise Ring?

No, it is not a requirement that you give your partner a promise ring. For some, this may not be a financially wise decision. Some couples also do not have a penchant for jewelry. Ultimately, giving your partner a promise ring is a personal choice and with a personal significance. Only you and your partner know if a promise ring is necessary.

How Will We Know if We’re Ready for Marriage?

Again, only you and your partner can truly know if you are ready for marriage. However, there are some questions you can ask yourself to determine if marriage is the right choice:

  • Do we know each other well enough?
  • Are we really in love or just infatuated?
  • Are we on the same page about our plans and goals for our relationship?
  • Are we making each other happy?
  • Are we in a financially stable place to have a wedding and a healthy marriage?
  • What is our reason for getting married? Is it just for financial security or success, to appease familial or peer pressure, or is it because we genuinely love each other?

It is generally recommended that a couple attend at least a few sessions of couples therapy or marriage counseling. This will not only help you figure out if you are ready for marriage, but it will also teach you how to have a happy and healthy marriage if you do decide to get married.

Does the Man Have to Be the One to Give the Ring?

No, it does not always have to be the man. In the past, it was more common for men to be the ones to propose. However, as time goes on and beliefs shift, it is becoming more usual and accepted for women to pop the question.

Final Thoughts

So, what’s the difference between a promise ring and engagement ring? Promise rings and engagement rings are different in terms of purpose, appearance, cost, manner of giving, and etiquette. With that said, both symbolize a deep and faithful commitment to one another. Couples can decide which ring is perfect for their current relationship by understanding these differences.

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