Family in Italian: 125 terms to master the family tree

Have you noticed how Italians love talking about their nearest and dearest? The subject of family is a great conversation starter between people who don’t know each other well. So, being able to converse naturally about your family is a key skill to have if you’re learning Italian.

Be prepared to be asked about your family when you chat with native-speakers, and reciprocate by asking them about their own. Engaging in this type of small talk will not only display your communication skills, but it’s also a great way to get to know them better, and deepen relationships.

Knowing some key phrases and helpful words will enable you to take part in these conversations, ask about someone else’s family, and talk confidently about your own. In this article, we’ll teach you Italian words, conversation starters, and phrases that will be useful when making small talk and describing your family in Italian.

Ready? Let’s get started!

Family in Italian

The Italian word for family is “famiglia.” The plural form is “famiglie.” Easy, right? As you can see, it’s rather similar to the English word, which really helps memorization.

You can define your relationship to someone according to the degree of kinship, “grado di parentela” in Italian. A basic family usually consists of parents, siblings, spouse, and children, which are called first-degree family members, “parenti di primo grado” in Italian. Then there are second-degree and third-degree family members, which are respectively “parenti di secondo grado” and “parenti di terzo grado” in Italian.

In this article, you’ll learn how to say:

  • mother in Italian;
  • father in Italian;
  • grandmother in Italian;
  • grandfather in Italian;
  • sister in Italian;
  • brother in Italian;
  • daughter in Italian;
  • son in Italian;
  • aunt in Italian;
  • uncle in Italian;
  • cousin in Italian.

And much more. Have a look at the following tables, and get ready to expand your vocabulary, practice your pronunciation, and increase your Italian language skills.

Free downloadable Italian family relationships chart.

Immediate family members in Italian

Let’s start with family vocabulary and familial relationships. As mentioned previously, those closest to you are first-degree family members, which translate to “familiari” or “parenti di primo grado” in Italian. A close relative is also known as “congiunto,” “parente prossimo” or “parente stretto” in Italian.

Note that “parente” is a false friend. “Parents” in English are “genitori” in Italian, whereas “parenti” in Italian are “relatives” in English. It can be confusing, I know. Be sure to know which is which! Both “parente” and “parent” derive from the Latin “parens,” which means parent. In Italian this term was later replaced with “genitore.

Children eating breakfast with their father in Italian.

English Italian SingularItalian PluralIPAPronunciation
FamilyFamiglia Famiglie [famˈiʎa]pha-meeh-wlhee-ah
First-degree family memberFamiliare Familiari[familiˈare]pha-meeh-leeh-ah-reh
First-degree family memberCongiunto Congiunti[kond͡ʒˈunto]kohn-joon-toh
First-degree family memberParente di primo gradoParenti di primo grado[parˈɛnte dˈi prˈimo ɡrˈado]pah-rehn-teh deeh pree-moh grah-doh
Close relativeParente prossimoParenti prossimi[parˈɛnte prˈɔs͡simo]pah-rehn-teh prohs-see-moh
Close relativeParente strettoParenti stretti[parˈɛnte strˈetːo]pah-rehn-teh streht-toh
DadPapàPapà [papˈa]pah-pah
ChildrenFigli Figli[fˈiʎɪ]pheeh-wlheeh
SonFiglio Figli[fˈiʎo]pheeh-wlhee-oh
Eldest childPrimogenitoPrimogeniti[primod͡ʒˈɛnito]preeh-moh-jeh-neeh-toh
Middle childFiglio di mezzoFigli di mezzo[fˈiʎo dˈi mˈɛd͡zːo]pheeh-wlhee-oh deeh meh-tsoh
Little brother, younger brotherFratello minore, fratellinoFratelli minori, fratellini[fratˈɛllo minˈore]
phrah-tehl-loh mee-noh-reh
Older brotherFratello maggioreFratelli maggiori[fratˈɛllo mad͡ʒːˈore]phrah-tehl-loh mah-joh-reh
Little sister, younger sisterSorella minore, sorellinaSorelle minori, sorelline[sorˈɛlla minˈore]
soh-rehl-lah mee-noh-reh
Older sisterSorella maggiore Sorelle maggiori[sorˈɛlla mad͡ʒːˈore]soh-rehl-lah mah-joh-reh
SpouseConiuge Coniugi[kˈoniʊd͡ʒe]koh-neeh-ooh-jeh
Domestic partnerConviventeConviventi[konvivˈɛnte]kohn-vee-vehn-teh
Domestic partnerCompagnoCompagni[kompˈaɲɲo]kohm-pahn-yoh
Domestic partnerCompagnaCompagne[kompˈaɲɲa]kohm-pahn-yah

Compagno and compagna are terms used to define adults who have a steady relationship with each other and live together without being married, a growing trend in Italy.

Extended family in Italian

Let’s move on to second-degree relations, which include grandparents and grandchildren, and third-degree relations, which include great-grandparent, uncles, aunts, nieces, and nephews. Take a look!

Young girl playing snooker with her grandfather in Italian.

English Italian Singular Italian PluralIPAPronunciation
Second-degree family memberParente di secondo gradoParenti di secondo grado[parˈɛnte dˈi sekˈondo ɡrˈado]pah-rehn-teh deeh seh-kohn-doh grah-doh
Grandfather, grandpaNonnoNonni[nˈɔnno]nohn-noh
Grandmother, grandmaNonnaNonne [nˈɔnna]nohn-nah
Third-degree family memberParente di terzo gradoParenti di terzo grado[parˈɛnte dˈi tˈɛrt͡so ɡrˈado]pah-rehn-teh dee tehr-tsoh grah-doh
Male cousinCuginoCugini[kʊd͡ʒˈino]kooh-jeeh-noh
Female cousinCuginaCugine[kʊd͡ʒˈina]kooh-jeeh-nah

Distant relatives in Italian

A distant relative is not closely related to you, and is called “parente lontano” or “parente alla lontana” in Italian. Let’s learn what “great-uncles” and “second cousins” are called in Italian.

Young girl with her grandparents in Italian.

English Italian Singular Italian PluralIPAPronunciation
Distant relativeParente lontanoParenti lontani[parˈɛnte lontˈano]pah-rehn-teh lohn-tah-noh
Distant relativeParente alla lontanaParenti alla lontana[parˈɛnte ˈalla lontˈana]pah-rehn-teh ahl-lah lohn-tah-nah
Great-uncleProzio Prozii[prot͡sˈio]proh-tseeh-oh
Great-great-unclePro-prozioPro-prozii[prˈo prot͡sˈio]proh-proh-tseeh-oh
Great-great-auntPro-proziaPro-prozie[prˈo prod͡zˈia]proh-proh-tseeh-ah
Male second cousinBiscuginoBiscugini[biskʊd͡ʒˈino]bees-kooh-jeeh-noh
Female second cousinBiscugina Biscugine[biskʊd͡ʒˈina]bees-kooh-jeeh-nah
Male third cousinCugino di terzo grado Cugini di terzo grado [kʊd͡ʒˈino dˈi tˈɛrt͡so ɡrˈado]kooh-jeeh-noh deeh tehr-tsoh grah-doh
Female third cousinCugina di terzo gradoCugine di terzo grado[kʊd͡ʒˈina dˈi tˈɛrt͡so ɡrˈado]kooh-jeeh-nah deeh tehr-tsoh grah-doh
Male first cousin once removedProcuginoProcugini[prokʊd͡ʒˈino]proh-kooh-jeeh-noh
Female first cousin once removedProcugina Procugine[prokʊd͡ʒˈina]proh-kooh-jeeh-nah
Male second cousin once removedProcuginoProcugini[prokʊd͡ʒˈino]proh-kooh-jeeh-noh
Female second cousin once removedProcuginaProcugine[prokʊd͡ʒˈina]proh-kooh-jeeh-nah
Male first cousin twice removedCugino di secondo gradoCugini di secondo grado[kʊd͡ʒˈino dˈi sekˈondo ɡrˈado]kooh-jeeh-noh deeh seh-kohn-doh grah-doh
Female first cousin twice removedCugina di secondo gradoCugine di secondo grado[kʊd͡ʒˈina dˈi sekˈondo ɡrˈado]kooh-jeeh-nah deeh seh-kohn-doh grah-doh

Family members by marriage: family-in-laws in Italian

The family members on your husband or wife’s side are called “parenti acquisiti” in Italian. In English, you add “in-law” to the end of another word to specify their role, such as brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and so on. In Italian we have completely different names for each family member. Here is a list for you to learn.

Woman sharing a meal with her family-in-laws in Italian.

English Italian Singular Italian PluralIPAPronunciation
In-lawsParente acquisitoParenti acquisiti[parˈɛnte akːwizˈito]pah-rehn-teh ah-kooh-eeh-seeh-toh

Step relatives in Italian

Do you know how to say “stepchildren” in Italian? And how about “stepfather,” “stepmother,” “stepbrother,” and “stepsister”? Well, let’s find out right away!

Step relatives in Italian sharing an embrace.

English Italian Singular Italian PluralIPAPronunciation
StepchildFigliastro Figliastri [fiʎˈastro]pheeh-wlhee-ah-stroh
StepdaughterFigliastra Figliastre [fiʎˈastra]pheeh-wlhee-ah-strah
StepsisterSorellastra Sorellastre[sorellˈastra]soh-rehl-lah-strah

Note that the pejorative suffixes -astro, -astra, -igno, and -igna indicate the negative connotation of these words, stemming from the old Italian culture of traditional Catholic families. These words aren’t actually used anymore in modern Italian, but it’s good to know them anyway.

To talk about your wife’s/husband’s or parent’s children by a former partner, or your parent’s second spouse, it’s better to use complete phrases like “il secondo marito di mia madre,” my mother’s second husband, “le figlie di mio padre,” my father’s daughters, and so on.

Other family-related terms in Italian

Here are some other handy phrases, words, and expressions that can be useful when talking about family members in Italian.

English Italian Singular Italian PluralIPAPronunciation
Single-parent familyFamiglia monogenitoriale, famiglia monoparentaleFamiglie monogenitoriali, famiglie monoparentali[famˈiʎa monod͡ʒenitoriˈale]
[famˈiʎa monoparentˈale]
pha-meeh-wlhee-ah moh-noh-jeh-neeh-toh-reeh-ah-leh
pha-meeh-wlhee-ah moh-noh-pah-rehn-tah-leh
Single parent,
lone parent
Genitore singleGenitori single[d͡ʒenitˈore sˈinɡˌɔl]jeh-neeh-toh-reh seehn-gohl
Single fatherPadre singlePadri single[pˈadre sˈinɡˌɔl]pah-dreh seehn-gohl
Single motherMadre singleMadri single[mˈadre sˈinɡˌɔl]mah-dreh seehn-gohl
Civil unionUnione civileUnioni civili[ʊnjˈone t͡ʃivˈile]ooh-neeh-oh-neh cheeh-veeh-leh
De facto coupleCoppia di fattoCoppie di fatto[kˈɔpːia dˈi fˈatːo]kohp-peeh-ah deeh phaht-toh
Adoptive familyFamiglia adottivaFamiglie adottive[famˈiʎa adotːˈiva]pha-meeh-wlhee-ah ah-doht-teeh-vah
Adoptive parentsGenitori adottiviGenitori adottivi[d͡ʒenitˈorɪ adotːˈivɪ]jeh-neeh-toh-reeh ah-doht-teeh-veeh
Adoptive motherMadre adottivaMadri adottive[mˈadre adotːˈiva]mah-dreh ah-doht-teeh-vah
Adoptive fatherPadre adottivoPadri adottivi[pˈadre adotːˈivo]pah-dreh ah-doht-teeh-voh
Adopted childrenFigli adottiviFigli adottivi[fˈiʎɪ adotːˈivɪ]pheeh-wlhee ah-doht-teeh-veeh
Adopted sonFiglio adottivo Figli adottivi[fˈiʎo adotːˈivo]pheeh-wlhee-oh ah-doht-teeh-voh
Adopted daughterFiglia adottiva Figlie adottive[fˈiʎa adotːˈiva]pheeh-wlhee-ah ah-doht-teeh-vah
Foster familyFamiglia affidatariaFamiglie affidatarie[famˈiʎa affidatˈaria]pha-meeh-wlhee-ah ah-pheeh-dah-tah-reeh-ah
Foster parentsGenitori affidatariGenitori affidatari[d͡ʒenitˈorɪ affidatˈarɪ]jeh-neeh-toh-reeh ah-pheeh-dah-tah-reeh
Foster motherMadre affidatariaMadri affidatarie[mˈadre affidatˈaria]mah-dreh ah-pheeh-dah-tah-reeh-ah
Foster fatherPadre affidatarioPadri affidatari[pˈadre affidatˈario]pah-dreh ah-pheeh-dah-tah-reeh-oh
Foster childBambino in affidamento, bambino in affidoBambini in affidamento, bambini in affido[bambˈino ˈiːn affidamˈento]
[bambˈino ˈiːn affˈido]
bahm-beeh-noh een ah-pheeh-dah-mehn-toh
bahm-beeh-noh een ah-pheeh-doh
Surrogate motherMadre surrogataMadri surrogate[mˈadre sʊrɾoɡˈata]mah-dreh sooh-roh-gah-tah
GodfatherPadrino di battesimoPadrini di battesimo[padrˈino dˈi batːˈɛzimo]pah-dreeh-noh deeh bah-teh-seeh-moh
GodmotherMadrina di battesimoMadrine di battesimo[madrˈina dˈi batːˈɛzimo]mah-dreeh-nah deeh bah-teh-seeh-moh
TwinGemello, gemellaGemelli, gemelle[d͡ʒemˈɛllo]
TripletsTre gemelli Tre gemelli [trˈe d͡ʒemˈɛllɪ]treh jeh-mehl-leeh
SeparatedSeparato Separati [sepaɾˈato]seh-pah-rah-toh
DivorcedDivorziato Divorziati[divort͡sjˈato]deeh-vohr-tseeh-ah-toh
WidowerVedovo Vedovi[vˈedovo]veh-doh-voh
WidowVedova Vedove[vˈedova]veh-doh-vah
ToddlerInfante Infanti[infˈante]een-phan-teh
TweenPreadolescente Preadolescenti[preadoleʃˈɛnte]preh-ah-doh-leh-shen-teh
TeenagerAdolescente Adolescenti[adoleʃˈɛnte]ah-doh-leh-shen-teh
AdultAdulto Adulti[adˈulto]ah-doohl-toh
AncestorAntenato, avoAntenati, avi[antenˈato]
Family treeAlbero genealogicoAlberi genealogici[ˈalbero d͡ʒenealˈɔd͡ʒiko]ahl-beh-roh jeh-neh-ah-loh-jeeh-koh

Talking about family in day-to-day situations

Below we’ve collected conversational phrases and questions that will help you start conversations, find out more about someone else’s family, and talk about your own. Check them out, and improve your Italian!

Note that we commonly shorten “i miei genitori,” my parents, to “i miei,” “i tuoi genitori,” your parents, to “i tuoi,” etc. Do the same to fit in with the locals, and sound authentic in Italian!

Woman laughing while talking about their family in Italian.

English Italian IPAPronunciation Context
Is everything good at home?A casa tutto bene?[ˈaː kˈaza tˈutːo bˈɛne]ah kah-sah tooht-toh beh-nehAll purpose
My family is doing great, thanks.Stanno tutti benissimo, grazie.[stˈanno tˈutːɪ benˈis͡simo ɡrˈat͡sje]stahn-noh tooht-teeh beh-neh grah-tseeh-eh All purpose
How is your family?Come stanno i tuoi?[kˈome stˈanno ˈi tʊˈɔi]koh-meh stahn-noh eeh tooh-oh-eehInformal
How is your family?Come stanno i suoi?[kˈome stˈanno ˈi sʊˈɔi]koh-meh stahn-noh eeh sooh-oh-eehFormal
My family is doing great, thanks. How is yours?Stanno bene, grazie. E i tuoi?[stˈanno bˈɛne ɡrˈat͡sje ˈeː ˈi tʊˈɔi]stahn-noh beh-neh grah-tseeh-eh eh eeh tooh-oh-eehInformal
My family is doing great, thanks. How is yours?Stanno bene, grazie. E i suoi?[stˈanno bˈɛne ɡrˈat͡sje ˈeː ˈi sʊˈɔi]stahn-noh beh-neh grah-tseeh-eh eh eeh sooh-oh-eehFormal
Do you have any brothers or sisters?Hai fratelli o sorelle?[ˈaj fratˈɛllɪ ˈɔː sorˈɛlle]ah-eeh phrah-tehl-leeh oh soh-rehl-lehInformal
Do you have any brothers or sisters?Ha fratelli o sorelle?[ˈa fratˈɛllɪ ˈɔː sorˈɛlle]ah phrah-tehl-leeh oh soh-rehl-lehFormal
I’m an only child.Sono figlio unico.
Sono figlia unica.
[sˈono fˈiʎo ˈuniko]
[sˈono fˈiʎa ˈunika]
soh-noh pheeh-wlhee-oh ooh-neeh-koh
soh-noh pheeh-wlhee-ah ooh-neeh-kah
All purpose
I have a twin brother.Ho un fratello gemello.[ˈɔ ˈun fratˈɛllo d͡ʒemˈɛllo]oh oon phrah-tehl-loh jeh-mehl-lohAll purpose
How many siblings do you have?Quanti fratelli hai?[kwˈantɪ fratˈɛllɪ ˈaj]kooh-ahn-teeh phrah-tehl-leeh ah-eehInformal
How many siblings do you have?Quanti fratelli ha?[kwˈantɪ fratˈɛllɪ ˈa]kooh-ahn-teeh phrah-tehl-leeh ahFormal
I have two sisters and a brother.Ho due sorelle e un fratello.[ˈɔ dˈue sorˈɛlle ˈeː ˈun fratˈɛllo]oh dooh-eh soh-rehl-leh eh oon phrah-tehl-lohAll purpose
I have a brother who lives in France.Ho un fratello che vive in Francia.[ˈɔ ˈun fratˈɛllo kˈe vˈive ˈiːn frˈant͡ʃa]oh oon phrah-tehl-loh keh veeh-veh een phrahn-chahAll purpose
Where does your family live?Dove vive la tua famiglia?[dˈove vˈive lˈa tˈua famˈiʎa]doh-veh veeh-veh lah tooh-ah pha-meeh-wlhee-ahInformal
Where does your family live?Dove vive la sua famiglia?[dˈove vˈive lˈa sˈua famˈiʎa]doh-veh veeh-veh lah sooh-ah pha-meeh-wlhee-ahFormal
Do you have a big family?Hai una famiglia numerosa?[ˈaj ˈuna famˈiʎa nʊmerˈoza]ah-eeh ooh-nah pha-meeh-wlhee-ah nooh-meh-roh-sahInformal
Do you have a big family?Ha una famiglia numerosa?[ˈa ˈuna famˈiʎa nʊmerˈoza]ah ooh-nah pha-meeh-wlhee-ah nooh-meh-roh-sahFormal
I have a big family, like those in the old days.Ho una famiglia numerosa come quelle di una volta.[ˈɔ ˈuna famˈiʎa nʊmerˈoza kˈome kwˈɛlle dˈi ˈuna vˈɔlta]oh ooh-nah pha-meeh-wlhee-ah nooh-meh-roh-sah koh-meh kooh-ehl-leh deeh ooh-nah vohl-tahAll purpose
There are three people in my family.Siamo in tre in famiglia.[sjˈamo ˈiːn trˈe ˈiːn famˈiʎa]seeh-ah-moh een treh een pha-meeh-wlhee-ahAll purpose
Are you married?Sei sposato?
Sei sposata?
[sˈɛi spozˈato]
[sˈɛi spozˈata]
seh-eeh spoh-sah-toh
seh-eeh spoh-sah-tah
Are you married?È sposato?
È sposata?
[ˈɛː spozˈato]
[ˈɛː spozˈata]
eh spoh-sah-toh
eh spoh-sah-tah
I never got married.Non mi sono mai sposato.[nˈon mˈi sˈono mˈaj spozˈato]nohn meeh soh-noh mah-eeh spoh-sah-tohAll purpose
I've been living with my partner for nine years.Convivo da nove anni.[konvˈivo dˈa nˈɔve ˈannɪ]kohn-veeh-voh dah noh-veh ahn-neeh All purpose
I got divorced four years ago.Ho divorziato quattro anni fa.[ˈɔ divort͡sjˈato kwˈatːro ˈannɪ fˈa]oh deeh-vohr-tseeh-ah-toh kooh-aht-troh ahn-neeh phaAll purpose
I have been married for three years.Sono sposato da tre anni.
Sono sposata da tre anni.
[sˈono spozˈato dˈa trˈe ˈannɪ]
[sˈono spozˈata dˈa trˈe ˈannɪ]
soh-noh spoh-sah-toh dah treh ahn-neeh
soh-noh spoh-sah-tah dah treh ahn-neeh
All purpose
Do you have any children?Hai figli?[ˈaj fˈiʎɪ]ah-eeh pheeh-wlheeInformal
Do you have any children?Ha figli?[ˈa fˈiʎɪ]ah pheeh-wlheeFormal
I don't have any children.Non ho figli.[nˈon ˈɔ fˈiʎɪ]nohn oh pheeh-wlheeAll purpose
I have a four-year-old daughter.Ho una figlia di quattro anni.[ˈɔ ˈuna fˈiʎa dˈi kwˈatːro ˈannɪ]oh ooh-nah pheeh-wlhee-ah deeh kooh-aht-troh ahn-neehAll purpose
I have two children and three grandchildren.Ho due figli e tre nipoti.[ˈɔ dˈue fˈiʎɪ ˈeː trˈe nipˈotɪ]oh dooh-eh pheeh-wlhee eh treh neeh-poh-teehAll purpose

Real-life Italian conversation about family

  • Luca: Hai una famiglia numerosa, Silvia?
    Do you have a big family, Silvia?
  • Silvia: Siamo in quattro: io, mio padre, la sua seconda moglie, e mio fratello, che si chiama Francesco. E tu, Luca? Quanti fratelli hai?
    There are four people in my family: me, my father, his second wife, and my younger brother, whose name is Francesco. What about you, Luca? How many brothers and sisters do you have?
  • Luca: Ho un fratello maggiore, e due sorelle minori, che vivono a Firenze con i miei genitori. Io vivo a Torino da due anni con la mia compagna Elena. Abbiamo un gatto e due cani adottati al canile.
    I have an older brother, and two younger sisters, who live in Florence with my parents. I’ve been living in Turin with my partner Elena for two years. We have a cat and two rescue dogs.

When talking about your family, don’t forget to mention your pets, which are regarded as family members and not property by most Italians. I personally can talk about my beloved furry and scaly friends for hours!


To keep the conversation going, you can ask the other person a follow-up question like:

  • Quanti anni ha tuo fratello?
    How old is your brother?

They can respond in many ways. Example responses can be something like:

  • Mio fratello Giuliano ha 15 anni, e va al liceo.
    My brother Giuliano is 15 years old, and he’s in high school.
  • Il mio fratellino Fabio compie 8 anni a luglio.
    My little brother Fabio will turn 8 years old in July.
  • Mio fratello Andrea ha 24 anni, e vive in Francia.
    My brother Andrea is 24 years old, and he lives in France.

The person you’re talking to might then respond by asking a follow-up question like:

  • Tua sorella è più grande o più piccola?
    Is your sister older or younger than you?

You can respond in many ways. Here are some examples:

  • Mia sorella Veronica ha quattro anni più di me, e vive a Venezia.
    My sister Veronica is four years older than me, and lives in Venice.
  • Io e mia sorella minore Cinzia abbiamo solo undici mesi di differenza. Spesso ci chiedono se siamo gemelle.
    My younger sister Cinzia and I are only eleven months apart. We are often asked if we are twins.

Describing your family in Italian

When chatting about your loved ones, give a general picture of your family and a brief description that tells the person you’re talking to how big it is, and maybe where they live.

Let me give you an example.

  • Siamo in cinque in famiglia: io, mia madre, il suo secondo marito Giovanni, mio fratello minore Mattia, e mia sorella maggiore Giada. Viviamo a Bologna.
    There are five people in my family: me, my mother, her second husband Giovanni, my little brother Mattia, and my older sister Giada. We live in Bologna.

Then you can add details about your family. See some examples below:

  • Lo e mio fratello Pietro ci assomigliamo molto. Spesso ci chiedono se siamo gemelli anche se lui ha tre anni meno di me.
    My brother Pietro and I look very much alike. We are often asked if we are twins, even though he’s three years younger than me.
  • Mia mamma e mio papà hanno gli occhi verdi, come me e mia sorella Tiziana. Mio fratello Claudio, invece, ha gli occhi neri.
    My mom and dad have green eyes, like me and my sister Tiziana. My brother Claudio, instead, has black eyes.
  • A parte i capelli rossi, ho preso tutto da mio padre.
    Except for the ginger hair, I got everything from my father.
  • Ho preso i capelli neri e gli occhi azzurri di mia madre, e l’altezza da mio padre.
    I got the black hair and blue eyes from my mother, and the height from my father.
  • Sono sposata con un gemello, e abbiamo due bambine di 8 e 3 anni.
    I’m married to a twin, and we have two little girls aged 8 and 3.

Family-related Italian idioms, proverbs, and sayings

I’m sharing with you six family-related Italian sayings and idioms to express concepts and describe situations with sharp accuracy and in a more efficient and creative way, bringing a new level of sophistication to your Italian. Here you go!

I panni sporchi si lavano in famiglia

Literal translation: Dirty clothes are washed in the family.
English equivalent: Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.

“I panni sporchi si lavano in famiglia” originates from the fact that dirty laundry should be kept out of sight when guests are visiting, otherwise it’d be embarrassing for everybody. Basically, it means that you shouldn’t discuss any private issues and family affairs in public or with other people.

La mela non cade mai lontano dall'albero

Literal translation and English equivalent: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

La mela non cade mai lontano dall'albero” has its almost literal equivalent in the English saying “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and describes a child who has similar habits, behaviors, or talents as their parents.

Tale padre, tale figlio

Literal translation and English equivalent: Like father, like son.

Derived from the Latin “Talis pater, talis filius,” this is an ancient popular saying intended to affirm both the concept of heredity of character and the influence of paternal example on children. It’s mostly used for negative qualities.

Parenti serpenti, cugini assassini, fratelli coltelli

Literal translation: Snake relatives, killer cousins, knife brothers.

This Italian proverb means that family ties that should be based on love and harmony often turn into causes for suffering, discontent, and pain, leading to furious arguments and sometimes deep and irremediable rifts. I’m trying to think of an English equivalent, but nothing comes to my mind.

Una buona mamma vale cento maestre

Literal translation: A good mother is worth a hundred teachers.
English equivalent: One good mother is worth a hundred schoolmasters.

This proverb gives an indication of the massive influence a mother has in shaping the character of her children.

Ògne scarrafóne è bbèllo 'a màmma sóia

As you might have guessed, the proverb “Ògne scarrafóne è bbèllo 'a màmma sóia” is not standard Italian. It’s actually Neapolitan dialect. Nice, huh?

In standard Italian it would be:

Ogni scarafaggio è bello per la propria madre.
Every beetle is handsome to his mom.

It means that, no matter how many flaws they may have, children are always perfect in their mother’s eyes. Italian mothers actually tend to praise their kids no matter what. “A face only a mother could love” is the closest English expression I can think of.

This lovely saying became famous nationwide in the early nineties, when the Neapolitan pop-blues singer, songwriter and musician Pino Daniele, a legend of the Italian music scene, released his song ‘O scarrafone.

Pino Daniele - 'O scarrafone

Click here to read the lyrics of this song, along with the English translation. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t understand every single word Pino Daniele sings. This song isn’t easy to understand even for native Italian speakers.

Video to learn how to talk about family in Italian

Watching videos in Italian can be a great way to expose yourself to the language. This hilarious scene from “Fantozzi va in pensione” (Fantozzi retires), the sixth chapter in the Fantozzi film series, gives some interesting examples of family vocabulary and familial relationships, and is perfect to listen to real Italian as it’s spoken by native speakers.


Ughina Fantozzi sfonda nel mondo del cinema.

Family small talk etiquette

There’s nothing small about small talk, and there are topics and questions to avoid if you want to continue having a conversation with someone. The following tips will help you avoid gaffes and goofs, faux-pas, awkward situations, and other embarrassments.

1. Make sure not to ask questions that are too personal

As we have seen, family can be a great conversation starter and small talk topic. Still, it’s crucial to use caution when asking about potentially sensitive topics.

For example, asking someone you hardly know if they have children or plan to have children can be inappropriate, intrusive, prying, and, at worst, triggering if that person is having fertility issues, or is going through fertility treatment. Your question may also inadvertently assume that they want to have kids, which is simply not the case for everyone.

Etiquette also says that asking about past relationships is a no-no. Avoid the subject completely. Avoid asking if someone gets along well with their relatives. You never know what might be going on in their families.

2. Smile

A warm, bright smile has the power to instantly make people feel welcomed. Smile when making small talk about family.

3. Hands off your smartphone

While you’re engaging in small talk about family, don’t check your smartphone, text, update your Instagram feed, respond to emails, or take phone calls. Smile, nod, make eye contact, be attentive, and show that you’re listening. There’s nothing more irritating than talking to someone who isn’t fully present in the conversation because scrolling through their phone. Aaaargh!

Put. Away. Your. Smartphone.

4. Find an appropriate balance between speaking and listening

Think of conversation as a traffic signal. In the first 20 seconds, you have a green light. Go ahead and describe brief facts about your family, mention what kind of relationship you have with each member, and talk about their personalities and appearance. If you go beyond 20 seconds, though, be aware that you’re edging toward boring. At the 40 second mark, you’ve officially monopolized the conversation and become too self-absorbed.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t make the other person do all the talking, or ask too many questions. Nobody likes to feel interrogated. Try and speak for no more than 20 seconds at a time, and find the right balance between talking and listening.

Cultural considerations when it comes to family in Italian

In Italy, the structure of the family has changed radically in the last few decades. In the span of a couple of generations, there’s been a transition from a patriarchal to a nuclear family model, with a growing number of single-person households, childless couples, and single-parent families.

The stereotype of large, multigenerational Italian families living together in the same house is now completely obsolete. There’s been a shift from the extended family model, consisting of a very large and dense family network, to tiny, independent families with just one, two or three members, much less interrelated, and often far apart in geographical terms. Family units are no longer so strongly interrelated, and the number of their members has been gradually decreasing.

Moreover, fewer and fewer children are being born. Italy has the lowest birth rate in Europe, and one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, the average number of children per woman. Although this is still a taboo subject in a Catholic country like Italy, more and more Italian women don’t want to have children at all. That’s their personal choice – and that’s absolutely fine.

Feeling overwhelmed by all these new words?

Study and practice as much as you can, until you feel more comfortable. By familiarizing yourself with Italian vocabulary, you’ll be fully prepared the next time you chit-chat with Italian native speakers.

The more you practice the family words and phrases you’ve learned, the easier it’ll be to use them in real life conversations and don’t forget to check out the rest of the articles on our Italian blog for more inspiration.

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