How to describe family in English: 80+ crucial words & sayings

Learning to name your family members in English is usually one of the first lessons in any English language course. Why? Because it’s such a common, day-to-day vocabulary that you simply won’t be able to do without it!

Knowing the English terms for family will come in handy in many situations. For example:

  • When you’re meeting someone for the first time, and they start asking you questions about family to get to know you better,
  • When you introduce your partner to your family,
  • During family dinners and gatherings,
  • When you need to get in touch with relatives from an English-speaking country,
  • When you decide to open up about your family matters to a trusted friend or therapist.

If you think you need to brush up on this vocabulary, this comprehensive guide to family members will help you do just that.

Family in English

Before we share how to say mom or brother in English, let’s focus on the word “family.”

The word “family” appeared in the English language in the 15th century, deriving from the Latin word “familia,” meaning “a household.” Therefore, “family” describes a group of people living under the same roof and forming a household.

However, it has evolved to mean something much deeper - the people who love you and care for you unconditionally. And while we usually use this term to refer to our parents, siblings, or cousins, who we call family doesn’t have to be related to us by blood.

Immediate family members in English

If you’ve been wondering how to say father or sister in English, wonder no more. Here’s a list of the immediate family members in English.

Happy snap of immediate family in English.

English IPAPronunciation for native speakers
Mom/ ˈmɑːm /mAHm
Dad/ ˈdæd /dAd
Mother/ ˈmʌðr̩ /mUHTHUHR
Father/ ˈfɑːðr̩ /fAHTHUHR
Parents/ ˈperənts /pEUHRUHnts
Sister/ ˈsɪstər /sIstUH
Brother/ ˈbrʌðr̩ /brUHTHUHR
Siblings/ ˈsɪblɪŋz /sibluhngs
Daughter/ ˈdɒtər /dAWtUH
Son/ ˈsən /sUHn
Children/ ˈtʃɪldrən /chIldrUHn
Wife/ ˈwaɪf /wIEf
Husband/ ˈhʌzbənd /hUHzbUHnd

Extended family in English

If you have a big family (lucky you!), or you’re creating your family tree, here’s a table with more family members you’ll find useful.

Grandparents are part of your extended family in English.

English IPAContext
Aunt/ ˈænt /Your mom’s or dad’s sister
Uncle/ ˈʌŋkl̩ /Your mom’s or dad’s brother
Great-aunt/ ˌgreɪt ˈænt /Your grandmother’s or grandfather’s sister
Great-uncle/ ˌgreɪt ˈʌŋkl̩ /Your grandmother’s or grandfather’s brother
Niece/ ˈniːs /Your sister’s or brother’s daughter
Nephew/ ˈnefjuː /Your sister’s or brother’s son
Female cousin/ ˈfiːˌmel ˈkʌzn̩ /Your aunt’s or uncle’s daughter
Male cousin/ ˈmeɪl ˈkʌzn̩ /Your aunt’s or uncle’s son
Grandmother/ ˈɡræn ˌmʌðr̩ /Your mom’s or dad’s mother
Grandfather/ ˈɡrændˌfɑːðər /Your mom’s or dad’s father
Grandparents/ ˈɡrændˌperənts /The parents of your parents
Great-grandmother/ ˌgreɪt ˈɡræn ˌmʌðr̩ /Your mom’s or dad’s grandmother
Great-grandfather/ ˌgreɪt ˈɡrændˌfɑːðər /Your mom’s or dad’s grandfather
Great-grandparents/ ˌgreɪt ˈɡrændˌperənts /The parents of your grandparents
Great-great-grandmother/ ˌgreɪt ˌgreɪt ˈɡræn ˌmʌðr̩ /Your grandmother’s or grandfather’s mother
Great-great-grandfather/ ˌgreɪt ˌgreɪt ˈɡrændˌfɑːðər /Your grandmother’s or grandfather’s father
Great-great-grandparents/ ˌgreɪt ˌgreɪt ˈɡrændˌperənts /The grandparents of your grandparents

Family members by marriage - Step and in-laws

With so many movies featuring the in-laws or the stepmoms and stepdads, you might already be familiar with this vocabulary! Nevertheless, here’s a list of family members by marriage.

A celebration with the whole family including step and in-laws in English.

English IPAContext
Stepmom/ step ˈmɑːm /Your dad’s wife who isn’t your biological mom
Stepdad/ step ˈdæd /Your mom’s husband who isn’t your biological father
Step-sister/ step ˈsɪstər /Your stepmom’s or stepdad’s daughter
Step-brother/ step ˈbrʌðr̩ /Your stepmom’s or stepdad’s son
Mother-in-law/ ˈmʌðər ɪn ˌlɔ: /Your wife’s or husband’s mother
Father-in-law/ fɑ:ðər ɪn ˌlɔ: /Your wife’s or husband’s father
Parents-in-law/ ˈperənts ɪn ˈlɑː /Your wife’s or husband’s parents
Daughter-in-law/ ˈdɔ:tər ɪn ˌlɔ: /Your wife’s or husband’s daughter
Son-in-law/ ˈsʌn ɪn ˌlɔ: /Your wife’s or husband’s son

Other family-related terms in English

Here are a few more common family-related terms in English that you might find helpful in a conversation about family.

Woman introduces her partner to the extended family in English.

English IPAContext
Adopted/ əˈdɑːptəd /Taken in by a foster family
Surrogate/ ˈsɜːrəɡət /A woman who gives birth to a child for another woman or couple
Twins/ ˈtwɪnz /Two children born at the same birth
Triplets/ ˈtrɪpləts /Three children born at the same birth
Spouse/ ˈspaʊs /Wife or husband
Partner/ ˈpɑːrtnər /Wife or husband, or boyfriend or girlfriend
De facto partner/ di ˈfæktoʊ ˈpɑːrtnər /A partner you live with but aren’t married to
Engaged/ enˈɡeɪdʒd /Two people who agreed to marry each other are “engaged”
Married/ ˈmerid /Two people who had an official wedding are “married”
Separated/ ˈsepəˌretəd /In a relationship or marriage but not currently together
Divorced/ dɪˈvɔːrst /Not married anymore
Widow/ ˈwɪdoʊ /The woman whose husband died and has not remarried
Widower/ ˈwɪdoʊər /The man whose wife died and has not remarried
Foster mom/ ˈfɒstə ˈmɑːm /The woman who adopted you
Foster dad/ ˈfɒstə ˈdæd /The man who adopted you
Foster child/ ˈfɒstə tʃaɪld /The adopted child
Godmother/ ˈɡɑːdˌməðər /The woman who assists at the child’s baptism
Godfather/ ˈɡɑːdˌfɑːðər /The man who assists at the child’s baptism
Godson/ ˈɡɒdsʌn /The male kid the godparents are responsible for
Goddaughter/ ˈɡɒd dɔːrtər /The female kid the godparents are responsible for
Baby/ ˈbeɪbi /Newborn human
Toddler/ ˈtɑːdlər /A young child who’s beginning to walk
Tween/ ˈtwiːn /A preadolescent; a child between 10 and 13 years old
Teenager/ ˈtiːˌnedʒər /A person between 11 and 19 years old
Adult/ əˈdəlt /A person over 18 years old (21 in some countries)
Relative/ ˈrelətɪv /A family member related to you by blood or marriage
Ancestors/ ˈænˌsestərz /Long gone family members that you descend from
Generation/ ˌdʒenəˈreɪʃn̩ /All the people who were born roughly at the same time, collectively-speaking
Youngest child/ ˈjʌŋɡəst ˈtʃaɪld /The youngest child in the family
Middle child/ ˌmɪdl ˈtʃaɪld /Usually, the second child in the family
Eldest child/ ˈeldəst ˈtʃaɪld /The oldest child in the family
Only child/ ˈəʊnli tʃaɪld /Someone who doesn’t have siblings

Talking about family in day-to-day situations

Family small talk is inevitable in many everyday situations, such as during the coffee break at the office or when you meet someone new at a party. To help you feel more confident when talking about family with your friends, coworkers, or people you’ve just met, here are some common family-related questions and answers that may come in handy:

Common conversation examples to discuss family

Q: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
A: I’ve got one older brother and two younger sisters.

Q: How many siblings do you have?
A: I have two sisters, one older and one younger.

Q: Do you have a big family?
A: My family consists of my mom, my stepdad, my brother Michael and my dog Bruno.

Q: Do you have kids?
A: I have a 5-year-old daughter.

Q: What's your family like?
A: My family is very close. My sisters are my best friends! We all get along really well and have lots of fun together.

Age

Here are some phrases you can use to talk about your family members’ age - as long as you remember English numbers!

  • My big sister is 17 years old.
  • My little brother is turning 5 and going to school this year.
  • My puppy is 1 year old, and my parrot is 2. (Animals are also a part of the family! And if you need to refresh the animal vocabulary, you can find out guide to 109 marvelous animals in English here.)
  • My parents are over 60 years old, and they will retire soon.
  • I have two kids - a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter.

Describing your family in English

If you ever need to describe your family in English, we’re coming to the rescue! Here are some expressions you can use.

  • My mom and dad have brown eyes, and so do I. But my sister has blue eyes!
  • I got my curly black hair from my dad. My mother has red hair!
  • I’m married to a twin!
  • My family is small. It’s just me, my mom, and my dad.
  • I take after my dad, but my sister takes after our mom.
  • My sister is shorter than me, but she’s also prettier!

Family-related English idioms

English is the language of metaphorical expressions, funny sayings, and peculiar phrases. And, of course, there’s no shortage of family-related idioms - that don’t necessarily contain family-related vocabulary.

Here are a few of the most common English idioms about family with their meaning:

IdiomMeaning
Like father, like sonSons tend to be similar to their fathers.
Like mother, like daughterA variation of “like father, like son”
The apple doesn’t fall far from the treeA child usually has very similar traits to their parents
To be a chip off the old blockTo be very similar to a parent
To be the spitting image of someoneTo look almost identical to another family member; ex.: Jane is the spitting image of her mother!
To be someone’s flesh and bloodTo be someone’s close relative related by blood; ex.: I can’t stay mad at you. You’re my flesh and blood!
To be the apple of someone’s eyeTo be someone’s more loved and cherished person; ex.: She is the apple of her mom’s eye.
To follow in one’s mother’s/father’s footstepsTo follow the same path in life as another family member did; ex.: Jane decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a dentist.
To run in the familyWhen something “runs in the family,” it means many family members have that “something” (skill, talent, disease); ex.: Artistic talent runs in the family!
To take after someoneTo look very similar to an older family member (mother, father, etc.); ex.: John takes after his father!

Videos to learn how to talk about family in English

Kids vocabulary - Family - family members & tree - Learn English educational video for kids

Yes, we know this video is for kids, but we kid you not - English vocabulary videos for kids are sometimes the best way to memorize new words! This short video may be an excellent resource for brushing up on the basic family vocabulary while focusing on your pronunciation.

Teens Talk About Family by Better Bird

If you’re looking to practice talking about your family, listening to others do it is a great way to start! In this short video, you’ll find a few teenagers talking about their family relationships. It’s full of family vocabulary and expressions that you’ll find super helpful!

Meet The Parents (2000) Official Trailer

Videos are fun, but movies are even more fun! And if you’re looking for a fun movie to watch with your family on a Sunday afternoon, this Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro comedy is utterly hilarious - and packed with family vocabulary!

Cultural considerations when it comes to family in English

When it comes to family, there are many do's and don'ts. What is acceptable in one culture may not be in another. Family dynamics vary significantly from place to place, but some general rules apply everywhere.

Here are a few things you should know about family in English-speaking countries:

  • The nuclear family is the norm. Most people live with their spouses and children in one household. In fact, the statistics say that the average family in the US is composed of 3.15 people.
  • The number of families without children is rapidly growing in most English-speaking countries, such as the United States, Canada, or the UK.
  • As for 2021, there were approximately 83.7 million families in the US, including 50 million families without children under 18.
  • The concept of extended families living together or multigenerational households like those found in other cultures around the world is not so common in most English-speaking countries.
  • There's no stigma attached to divorce or single parenthood. In fact, divorce rates are high in many English-speaking countries. It is estimated that in 2020, there were approximately 1.68 million marriages and 670,000 divorces in the US.
  • Single parenthood is also high in English-speaking countries. According to statistics, in 2020, there were 15.49 million single mom households in the US.

Sources:

  1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/205000/number-of-families-with-a-single-mother-in-the-us/
  2. https://www.statista.com/topics/1484/families/#dossierKeyfigures
  3. https://www.statista.com/statistics/195931/number-of-marriages-in-the-united-states-since-1990/
  4. https://www.statista.com/statistics/195939/number-of-divorces-in-the-united-states-since-1981/

It’s time to share your family stories

They say every family has a story to tell. It might be the movie-worthy love story of how your parents met or how your grandparents decided to have kids despite all the odds.

But you can’t share any of your best family stories with your English-speaking partner or friends unless you learn the English terms for family. We hope that this guide will help you brush up on family vocabulary.

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