What Knee Do You Propose On, and Why?

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Turns out, the explanation for this engagement tradition may stem from an actual knight in shining armor.

It’s an engagement tradition we all know. Someone drops down on one knee, declares their love, asks their soul mate to marry them, and reveals a stunning diamond ring that looks perfect on their love’s ring finger. It’s common pre-wedding etiquette to follow, but it’s a puzzling tradition when you think about it. Why do we get down on one knee to pop the question in the first place? And what knee do you propose on, anyway? To get our answers, we’ll have to travel back a few centuries to a time of knights and nobility.

What knee do you propose on?

Typically, you get down on your left knee when popping the question. The ring box is usually held in the left hand and opened with the right hand, revealing a gorgeous engagement ring for your beloved.

Why the left knee, specifically? According to Keith Willard, a wedding officiant and wedding planner, most people get down on the left knee because they are right-handed. Getting down on the left knee allows the proposer to position themselves properly and open the box easily.

Can you propose on the right knee?

Yes, you can absolutely propose on the right knee. Just because getting down on the left knee is the norm, it doesn’t mean the proposal is invalid if you do otherwise! Anyway, your future fiancée probably won’t even notice which knee is touching the ground—heck, they may be busy deciding what their something borrowed and something blue will be already! Plus, if you’re left-handed, you may find that getting down on your right knee is more comfortable.

Why do you propose on one knee?

While the historical origins of this romantic gesture are a bit murky (similar to the origins of the garter-belt wedding tradition), one theory shows promise. According to Willard, this tradition may stem from medieval times, when knights would bow down before noblewomen. Kneeling was also the protocol for many ceremonial rituals and rites of passage, including those of the romantic kind. Medieval artwork and literature shows knights genuflecting before their feudal lords as a sign of honor and respect, or kneeling in front of a noblewoman to express their eternal servitude and admiration in a show of “courtly love.”

Willard also says getting down on one knee shows a level of respect for your soon-to-be spouse. “It places the proposer in a position of submission,” he explains. “Their whole life is now in the other’s hands, with the hope that the other will be kind and loving.” So, if you think about it, your love is telling you you’re worthy of honor, respect, and eternal bliss when they get down on one knee. How romantic!

But wait—you’re not done yet. Now that you know which knee to propose on, it’s time to find a gorgeous engagement ring for a truly unforgettable proposal.

The perfect engagement ring

Next, check out the best wedding registry ideas every engaged couple needs.

Additional reporting by Ashley Lewis.

Sources:

  • Keith Willard, wedding officiant, wedding planner, and owner of Keith Willard Events
  • Zola: “What Knee Do You Propose On?”

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Kelly Kuehn
Kelly Kuehn is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest covering entertainment, trivia and history. When she’s not writing you can find her watching the latest and greatest movies, listening to a true crime podcast (or two), blasting ‘90s music and hiking with her dog, Ryker, throughout the Finger Lakes.