Hilarity Ensues. It can be done in a number of ways: Bob wishes to propose to Jennifer and shows the engagement ring to Alice, who assumes he's actually proposing to Alice, not Jennifer; Joe wishes to propose Alice and Bob finds the ring and shows it to Alice; Bob says something which, taken out of context, could sound very much like a wedding proposal, etc. Usually played for laughs but can be fodder for drama. Common in sitcoms and soap operas. Sister Trope to Accidental Marriage (indeed, this trope often leads to that one). Can easily lead to a Fawlty Towers Plot. Contrast I Didn't Mean To Turn You On, where one character accidentally inspires a love that's a bit less romantic and a bit more... earthly. Compare/contrast the Mistaken for Index.
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Anime and Manga
- Urusei Yatsura. During a competition to determine the fate of the Earth, Ataru's girlfriend promises to marry him if he wins. After defeating his female alien competitor Lum, he says how glad he is that he can get married. Lum thinks he's talking about marrying her, falls in love with him and accepts his "proposal".
- In Tamako Market, Dera colliding with Tamako's face causes her to sneeze violently; and apparently Dera's culture interprets sneezing at someone as a declaration of courtship towards them. Dera assesses the situation accordingly.
- In Kyo Kara Maoh, Wolfram badmouths Yuuri's mom, and Yuuri gets mad. Instead of punching Wolfram, Yuuri slaps him across the left cheek (apparently, Wolfram is too much of a Bishounen to punch). What Yuuri doesn't know is that slapping someone across the left cheek is how at least the noble classes propose marriage in Shin Makokou. When he finds out, Yuuri is horrified, but Wolfram (and darn near all the other characters too) takes the engagement very seriously.
- The Rurouni Kenshin anime has a filler episode devoted to this trope, as Kenshin is told by his friends to give his girlfriend Kaoru a ring he found in a fish he caught. Kenshin had never heard of the Western custom of proposing with a ring, but Kaoru had — the poor girl believes this to be an engagement proposal. By the end of the episode, though, all is confessed (and the ring is returned to the original owner, who was this close to killing himself because he threw it away after a fight with his fiance, but now can give it back to her and she wears it proudly)... and poor Kaoru is so disappointed that she's seen stuffing her face in the Akebeko to try cheering herself up. There's still a sweet scene at the end where Kenshin makes up with her by bringing her flowers, though.
- Ranma ˝ has Shampoo's village of Joketsuzoku; according to the rulebook, not only is she supposed to give a Kiss of Death to any non-Joketsuzoku girl who defeats her, but she's also supposed to marry any non-Joketsuzoku guy who defeats her. Between being a guy who defeated her in front of her whole village (admittedly in the wrong form, thanks to his Gender Bender curse), followed by knocking her out cold again in male form in her first appearance in Japan, Shampoo and her great-grandmother insist that Ranma is engaged to her.
- In Cat's Eye, Hitomi had once slapped an exploding watch on Kamiya's wrist to stop his latest attempt to woo her, only to realize that Mitsuko Asatani had the matchbox with the code to enter to stop the watch from exploding in fifteen minutes. Not wishing to die, Kamiya started running like a possessed, ruined the cover of three of Mitsuko's fellow cops to find her, barged in the cafe where she was, cried out he had searched for her in all of Tokyo, punched away a guy who tried to shoo him away, grabbed the matchbox, entered the code... And suddenly realized Mitsuko was there for her omiai.note With the guy he punched out. Before their friends. And Mitsuko's father. Who was praising him for the 'manliness' he just showed. Mitsuko accepted.
- Axis Powers Hetalia:
- Early in the series, Italy greets Japan with a hug. Japan then insists that Italy take responsibility for his actions.
- A similar situation happened with Pochi (Japan's pet dog) and Netherlands' rabbit after the latter greeted the former by licking him.
- In an Archie Comic, in one of the Xmas issues, Moose shows Jughead a jewellery store window with a birthstone ring. He then asks Jughead to find out from his girlfriend, Midge, if she'd like that ring for Christmas. So later, Jug casually asks Midge if she would like the ring in the store window. Midge kisses Jughead and runs off in ultimate excitement. Turns out the jeweller had since placed a diamond engagement ring in the birthstone's spot. Since Moose was normally so jealous that he was known to hospitalize other guys for merely talking to Midge, Jughead was now seriously in deep doo-doo.
- After viewing a particularly emotional piece, Vinyl Scratch tells Octavia she'd like to go on a "tour that lasts forever." Literally every other character in the Reading Rainbowverse interprets this as a proposal and starts preparing for her wedding, leading to Vinyl freaking out and locking herself in Fluttershy's bathroom.
- Six Brides For Two Sisters: It is revealed that Princess Celestia offered to officiate Twilight’s wedding back when Twilight was still a filly under her tutelage. Due to a poor choice of wording on Celestia’s part, Twilight has been living under the assumption that Celestia intends to marry her when Twilight decides she is ready. Celestia herself is quite stunned when she realizes that everyone, including Twilight, thought it was a proposal.
- In the Transformers fanfiction Culture Shock, Megatron beats up Starscream (yet again), then offers the Seeker assistance in standing in an attempt to be condescending...only to learn that in the Seeker's hometown of Vos, such an act is considered an offer for a permanent bond. Starscream accepts the "proposal", and the trine makes it clear that refusing to participate is a bad idea, so he has no choice but to go through with it.
- In An Anthem For Sheltered Bays, Levi makes Eren trade six of his scales for his mantle. Since merfolk only trade scales for marriage proposals, Eren believes that they are engaged. They do actually marry.
- In the Broken Bow series, letting a wood nymph braid your hair is their equivalent of giving you an engagement ring, as Armani finds out too late.
- In the Ah! My Goddess fanfic The Goddess and the Sky, the wish that should have gone to Keiichi goes to Sora instead. While she is initially unable to decide what to wish for, after tasting Belldandy's cooking, she jokingly wishes that the goddess would marry her...you can guess the rest from there.
- In Urusei Yatsura: Love to Skate!, the Original Character who replaces Ataru in that fateful game of tag rhetorically asks if he should propose to Lum...only for the last part of the conversation to be picked by via microphone and overheard by Lum.
- In Lum Sum Purple, Shampoo is chosen to be Lum's opponent in the tag game. While she wins, she is angry at having been humiliated twice, and gives Lum the Kiss of Death - unfortunately for Shampoo, the Oni interpret it as the Kiss of Marriage, and declare Lum and Shampoo married.
- In the b-plot to the Meg's Family chapter "Family Goth", after Maddie and Stewie get freed from a finger trap, Cody lies and tells them that in Chinese custom that since their fingers touched they're engaged. They get "married", and when Stewie actually wants to make the relationship work, Cody has a My God, What Have I Done? moment when he that an uncle and niece are acting like they're really married.
- In Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, Johnny Depp's character is practicing his wedding vows in the forest because he just can't get them right. When he manages to do it correctly, he slips the ring onto what he assumes is a twig sticking up from the ground. Instead, it's Helena Bonham-Carter's character's hand, she is the titular character and believes it to be a proposal. A Back Story tells us that she was murdered before her wedding. This leads directly to an Accidental Marriage.
- In the Abbott and Costello film Ride 'Em Cowboy, Willoughby (Lou) accidentally shoots an arrow into an Indian maiden's teepee. Tribal custom says this is a proposal of marriage and Lou and Bud spend much of the rest of the film running away from the bride-to-be and her tribe.
- Dexter: Dexter and Rita become engaged when Rita sees Dexter holding a ring (... actually belonging to Dexter's sister's boyfriend) and assumes it's a proposal. In a twist, Dexter goes along with it.
- In the seventh Ciaphas Cain novel, Cain does this to the daughter of a noble (who's after a husband so she can stake her claim as the governer of her homeworld) by basically nodding his head and going "uh-huh?" through one conversation too many when she's hinting at it. He wouldn't really mind it since it means a life of ease with an attractive woman, but he can't actually resign his commission. He gets out of it when she dumps him for the leader of a nearby planet.
- Garrett, P.I.: When Garrett and his girlfriend Tinnie encounter a powerful sorceress, he's worried the woman's flirty mannerisms will provoke Tinnie into a faux pas that will get them both blasted. He introduces Tinnie as his fiancee purely to defuse the situation, only to have her hold him to it and demand a ring a few pages later.
- In A Princess of Mars, John Carter becomes engaged to Dejah Thoris after she calls him "my chieftain" and he responds by calling her "my princess", with him not knowing what the exchange of those terms means. It takes him some time to work out why she becomes so upset with him.
- Robert A. Heinlein's The Number Of The Beast. While dancing together, Zebadiah Carter and Deety Burroughs enjoy a passionate tango together. Zebadiah says "Whew! After a tango like that the couple ought to get married." Deety takes him completely seriously (not realizing he was just joking) and accepts his proposal.
- In Louisa May Alcott's Jo's Boys, Tommy accidently proposes to Dora while still thinking himself in love with Nan, who had resolved to become a doctor and so never marry. He is unable to contradict her on the spot, and the effect of the engagement is to shake him out of Oblivious to Love. (Nan makes up a basket of medical supplies for a wedding present, knowing Dora will need it for his accidents.)
- In P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories, Bertie once tried to act as a go-between for Madeline and Gussie. It convinced Madeline that he was speaking for himself. Not only did she consider them engaged, later, after that engagement was broken and she was engaged to another man, she broke it off and declared she would instead marry Bertie and make him happy.
- In The Elenium, Sparhawk uses two near-identical ruby rings in order to save Queen Ehlana's life. One is traditionally worn by his family line, and the other by hers. Later he tries to return the ring to her, only for Ehlana to spot it's actually his family's ring rather than hers. She leaps on the mistake in order to make good on her childhood ambition of marrying him.
- In the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book The Ugly Truth, during Uncle Gary's wedding to Sonja, Gary's bestman Leonard reveals that Gary was actually planning to break up with Sonja during the baseball game they were attending and start dating her sister instead, but before he could do that a plane flew overhead with a banner saying "Marry Me Sonja?" Thinking it was from Gary, Sonja accepted. Gary would have told her the truth, but he was afraid the guys around his seat would beat him up if he let Sonja down.
- The Heirs of Alexandria: In Much Fall of Blood, Erik offers Bortai 'the protection of his house' when he sees her being pursued by murderous thugs. He used the mongol word Ger (a kind of tent). In her culture this was a proposal of marriage. Nobody took it seriously, but for months the Mongols were sharing an in-joke at the expense of their clueless European guest. Eventually he got wise to the joke, and actually married her.
Live Action TV
- In The Vicar of Dibley, the vicar (a woman) is asked by her love interest "will you be the one to marry me?", by which he means to join him and his partner in Holy Matrimony, rather than to become his wife. She misinterprets this and, when he introduces the other woman as his fiancee, yells whilst laughing "I don't think so!" then realises and apologises, pretending it was a joke.
- How I Met Your Mother
- Ted accidentally takes the best man's jacket before a wedding. When he goes to break it off with a girl, he accidentally drops the ring he didn't know was in the jacket. As he picks it up, the girl answers the door to see Ted, kneeling in a tuxedo, holding a ring.
- A sparkling wine flute containing a ring was delivered to Ted and Robin's table while they were on the first anniversary date, rather than the table next to theirs. When Robin sees it she yells "Noo, no no no no no no no, No! No, no no no, no, no, No!"
- And it's Played With when Barney "proposes" to Abby, who was in on the plan, to show Ted how annoying he can be with girls. Abby isn't the sharpest nail in the box and thinks it's a real proposal, telling her dad "It finally happened, daddy!", Barney believing her to be 'doing a bit'.
- Friends: Shortly after Rachel gives birth to Emma, Joey finds Ross's engagement ring, which Ross was going to present to Rachel and ask her to marry him. Joey turns around while happening to be on one knee, still holding the ring. Rachel says yes to Joey. A delightful series of miscommunications ensues.
- In a sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus a man goes to a male marriage registrar and asks the registrar to marry him to his fiance, but the registrar misunderstands and thinks the man is asking him to marry him. He accepts, although he does have a wife already, but he amiably decides to get a divorce. Another man comes in and asks the registrar to marry him and the registrar says he'd already accepted the other man's proposal. In the end it turns out they're all Straight Gay (including the first man's fiance and the registrar's "wife"); they all get married and live together happily ever after.
- In the Doctor Who story "The Aztecs", the Doctor accidentally gets engaged to Cameca by making her an offer that in her culture is a euphemistic marriage proposal. He apparently feels so badly about disappointing and leaving her that his libido goes AWOL for next five or six centuries.
- And then he proposes to Queen Elizabeth I believing her to be a Zygon. She wasn't, and she accepts. He ends up marrying her, promising to be right back... and running off. That's why she wants his head on a pike.
- And then he kinda-sorta proposes to River, twice. The first time he was asking whether she was married, which she is, to him, and she just ran with it to mess up with him. The second time, she had been shot and he didn't know it was her. He tells her "survive, and I'll marry you". She regenerates.
- Mr. Humphries and Mrs. Slocombe on Are You Being Served?: he was going to suggest something else to her, but she thought he was about to propose marriage, and when he started with, "I propose," she interrupted with, "And I accept!"
- Done by James in Big Time Rush. Apparently giving a rose to a princess is a marriage proposal in some foreign countries.
- Stand-up comedian Henry Cho talks about this in What's That Clickin' Noise?. While at a baseball game, the screen said "Marry Me Cindy" while he was on a date with someone named Cindy. He and all the guys with dates by that name ended up engaged.
- There's an Urban Legend surrounding a Coca-Cola ad. In the ad a man proposes to his gal by having a skywriter write "Marry Me Sue" in the air. According to the UL a woman named Sue in the area where the filming took place had a boyfriend who said that he wasn't going to propose to her; but if he did, he'd do it in a spectacular fashion such as hiring a skywriter.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- In a sidequest in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Maggie thinks Moe the moblin's letter to her is a marriage proposal. In reality, it only says "I want to eat you for dinner."
- Inverted in Ocarina of Time: When Ruto gave the Zora Sapphire to Link, in Zora culture, his acceptance of it would mean that Link accepts her proposal. However, Link only needs the sapphire to open the inner chamber of the Temple of Time. So Ruto proposed to Link, but he interpreted it in a different way.
- In episode 3 of Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, Wallace accidentally proposes to Miss Flitt while picking up a lugnut that she mistakes for a wedding ring. Sorting this out takes up a good part of the plot of episode 4.
- Use Sword On Monster: Humphrey thought he was just helping a captive stand up, and then Maga nailed him with a magical betrothal-binding. (Deliberate on her part, because the binding means she and Humphrey now share each others' pain ... and she's expecting the DHSS to try torturing information out of her.)
- In the CatDog movie in which the eponymous characters look for their parents, they wind up in a place where cats and dogs cohabitate peacefully, although they are all hillbillies. After drinking some root beer, Cat burps in the face of a female dog, who tells her dad and a wedding is arranged.
- The Looney Tunes Show: In "Members Only", Bugs is planning to break up with Lola. As he approaches the table, he trips and drops a mint under chair. As he kneels down to pick it up, Lola assumes he is proposing and immediately accepts.
- Is It College Yet?, the Series Finale of Daria, features a subplot where Ms. Barch mistakes Mr. O'Neill's attempts at sympathy regarding her ex-husband as a marriage proposal.
- The Simpsons: In "Apocalypse Cow", Bart accidentally becomes engaged to Cletus' daughter Mary when he gives her a stolen cow to look after (It Makes Sense in Context).
- Harry Truman always maintained that he married his wife, Bess, because of something like this. When the US entered World War I, Truman decided he would sign up with the army, and went to see Bess (whom he had been courting informally) to let her know his decision. During their conversation, Bess apparently joked, with no actual intent behind it, that "if this were a novel, I suppose you'd be proposing to me about now." After a few moment's thought, he replied, "Well, Bess, I think that's a right fine idea, but given the war and all maybe we should wait until I'm back from Europe." And they did.