Vocabulary in English

Family Vocabulary: Family Members in English

Family Members in English: The Complete Guide to Family Vocabulary

You’re about to improve your English family vocabulary. While you’re here, check out 27 Different Ways to Say Thank You (And How to Reply).

You already know some family relationship names in English: mother, father, brother, sister …

But what do you call your father’s sister’s daughter?

And what about your husband’s or wife’s brother?

Read on to learn the answers to these questions plus many more family words in English.

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Nuclear Family

Your nuclear family is your immediate family.

Usually, it’s the family who lives together in one house and typically consists of a mother, father and their children.

But as you’ll see, it can get a little more complicated.

Children

Other words for children

Other words for “children”

Kids — This is a more informal and more common word.

Offspring — This one is very technical. It’s the sort of word biologists use when they’re talking about cows or rabbits.

Feel free to use this one ironically, if you like.

If you’re that sort of person.

I am.

Son

Family tree with son

Other words for “son”

If a parent has more than one son, they often refer to them collectively as “my boys.”

“Don’t worry about me. My boys will look after me.”

If you want to talk about how many male kids you have, you can either say, for example, “I have two sons,” or “I have two boys.”

Daughter

Family tree with daughter

Other words for “daughter”

You can also talk about “my girls” if you have more than one daughter.

“Have you met my girls? They’re all studying finance. Apart from Celine. She’s working on a time machine these days.”

And you can use “girls” to talk about how many kids someone has:

“She’s got 13 girls and five boys. She must be tired.”

Siblings

Family tree with siblings
Wait! What does it mean?

A sibling is either a brother or sister.

So perhaps you have three brothers and eight sisters.

This means that you have eleven siblings. Which means you spend a lot of money on birthday presents.

Brother

Family tree with brother

Other words for “brother”

Another word for “brother” is “bro.”

It’s a nice, friendly word, and it shows that you’re close to your brother.

You can also use it with very close male friends to express closeness to them. It’s pretty informal and might make you sound a bit like a Californian surfer, but it’s friendly and fairly common.

“Hey bro! You going to Jasmine’s party tonight?”

If your brother was born on the same day as you (to the same mother), he’s your twin brother.

Sister

Family tree with siblings

Other words for “sister”

We can shorten “sister” to just “sis.”

“Hi, sis! How’s it going?”

If your sister was born on the same day as you (to the same mother), she’s your twin sister.

Talking about older and younger siblings

Some of our brothers and sisters are younger than us, and some of them are older.

There are different ways we can express this.

Let’s imagine you’re like me, and you have an older sister and a younger brother.

OK? So of course you can say, for example, “Katarina’s my older sister.”

But you can also say, “Katarina’s my big sister.”

And what about Paolo?

Well, he’s your younger brother or your little brother.

You can also call him your “baby brother.” This is, of course, a fun way of talking about your younger brother. Don’t use it when you’re filling in a visa form or explaining who he is to the police when you pick him up from the police station.

You can, of course, do this the other way around: older brother, a big brother, a younger sister, a little sister and a baby sister.

Parents

Family tree with parents

Other words for “parents”

Another word for “parents” is “folks.”

“I’m visiting my folks this weekend.”

Mother

Other words for mother

Other words for “mother”

Mum — This is quite informal and quite common. It’s the word I use when I talk about my mum, even if I’m talking to people I don’t know that well.

Mummy — This one is kind of childish and probably best used between a child and her mother. If you’re still using this at the age of 29, some people might consider it a little unusual.

Mom — This is very common in the US but not in the UK or Ireland or Australia … or anywhere else really. But there are a lot of Americans out there, so you might hear this from time to time.

Father

Other words for father

Other words for “father”

Dad — This one is like “mum.” It’s very common and is what most people in my family use. Except for my big brother, who was born in the ‘70s, when it was fashionable to call your parents by their first names. So he just says “Peter.”

Pop — This is only really used in the US. It’s got a nice sound to it, though, hasn’t it?

Pa / papa — A little old fashioned these days, but you still might hear this from time to time.

My old man — Some people refer to their father as “my old man.”

Husband

Family tree with husband

Other words for “husband”

Hubby — A nice, informal way of talking about your husband.

Wife

Family tree with wife

Other words for “wife”

I couldn’t think of any other words for “wife.” Certainly not “wifey.” Eugh!

Partner

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

When people talk about their partner, it could be a husband or a wife. But often it signals that these people aren’t married (or sometimes that they don’t feel the gender of their partner is important for the conversation).

Basically, we use it to mean “that person you love and have a relationship with.”

You might even share a toothbrush.

Other words for “partner”

A lot of these are quite romantic …

My other half — Nice, isn’t it?

My better half — Even better! I like using this one.

My significant other — See! Still romantic! Even a little poetic!

(Remember that with the three phrases above, we just say, e.g., “my significant other” or “my better half.” We don’t usually say, “I have a better half.” It sounds like you’re Dr Jekyll.)

Girlfriend / boyfriend — A few generations ago, if you said you had a girlfriend or a boyfriend, people wouldn’t think your relationship was that serious.

These days, that’s not the case as much. If you’re in a serious relationship, and you’re not married, then you can use these words.

Fiancée / fiancé — The person you’ve promised to marry. There’s probably a ring involved.

Notice that this is one of the very unusual situations in English where we have a different spelling for females (fiancée) and males (fiancé).

Spouse — This means husband or wife. It rhymes with “mouse.”

Stepfather / Stepmother / Stepdaughter / Stepson

Family tree with stepfather
Wait — what exactly does it mean?

Sketch of a family including stepmother and father, stepchildren and half-sister

Let’s think about the nice family in the picture above.

Zerin is divorced and has a child, Filiz, from her first marriage.

She’s now married to Alexey, who also has a child from a previous marriage — Val.

So we have a household with four people living in it: Zerin and her daughter, Filiz; and Alexey and his son, Val.

How do we describe their relationships?

Zerin is Val’s stepmother, and Val is Zerin’s stepson.

Meanwhile, Alexey is Filiz’s stepfather, and Filiz is Alexey’s stepdaughter.

Half-brother / half-sister

Family tree with half-brother
Wait — what exactly does it mean?

But there’s more!

This family keeps on growing!

Alexey and Zerin have decided to have a kid together. They called her Simone.

OK. So of course Simone is Alexey and Zerin’s daughter.

But how is she related to Filiz and Val? They share one parent but not both parents.

Easy — Simone is their half-sister.

Foster son / Foster daughter / Foster mother / Foster father

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

But this family keeps on growing!

Zerin and Alexey have plenty of time and energy, and they really enjoy looking after people.

They’re happy with their three kids, but they want to help out other kids — kids who don’t have any parents or whose parents can’t look after them.

So they decide to take on a foster son, Desmond.

Having a foster son is usually a temporary situation. They’re not responsible for him for life, but they’ve agreed to look after him until his situation improves or until he can become independent.

You can have a foster son, a foster daughter, a foster mother or a foster father.

Extended Family

Uncle

Family tree with uncle

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

An uncle can be one of four people:

  1. Your mother’s brother
  2. Your father’s brother
  3. Your mother’s sister’s husband
  4. Your father’s sister’s husband

A lot of languages have different words for each of these people. But not English — one word for all of these people!

Other uses of “uncle”

Can you remember when you were a kid, and there was this one guy who was always at your house?

And when you went out as a family, he sometimes came with you?

A close friend of your parents who spent a lot of time with you?

When there’s a close family friend like this, it’s common for the kids to call him “uncle Timmy” or “uncle Bernard” or uncle plus whatever his name is.

“We’re going out tonight, but don’t worry — uncle Sammy is going to stay and look after you.”

Aunt

Family tree with aunt

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

Your aunt can be one of four people:

  1. Your mother’s sister
  2. Your father’s sister
  3. Your mother’s brother’s wife
  4. Your father’s brother’s wife

One word for all of them! Efficient, right?

Other words for “aunt”

We can also say “auntie.” It’s closer and less formal.

Other uses of “aunt”

So, we can say “uncle Sammy,” even if Sammy isn’t your real uncle and just a good family friend.

Well, guess what!

You can also say “auntie Olga,” even if Olga is just your parents’ friend. She’s someone you trust like family and enjoy spending time with.

Cousin

Family tree with cousin

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

Your cousin is your uncle and aunt’s child.

In some languages, there are different words depending on which side of the family your cousin is, or whether your cousin is male or female.

Again, this is where English is pretty efficient.

We use one word for all of them!

They are all cousins!

Other words for “cousin”

If you want to be more casual and informal, you can say “cuz.”

“Ben? Oh, he’s my cuz.”

Niece

Family tree with niece

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

Have you got a brother or sister with kids?

It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?

There’s this little person who’s very closely related to you, but who you’re not totally responsible for when he or she starts crying or vomiting everywhere. The best of both worlds!

If your brother or sister has a girl, then that’s your niece. (It rhymes with “piece.”)

Nephew

Family tree with nephew

If your brother or sister has a boy, then that’s your nephew.

Grandfather

Other words for grandfather

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

Your mother’s father or your father’s father.

Other words for “grandfather”

Granddad — A little more common and less formal

Grandpa — Similar to granddad. The choice is yours!

Grandmother

Other words for grandmother

Your mother’s mother or your father’s mother.

Other words for “grandmother”

Gran — A less formal way of saying “grandmother.”

Granny — So cosy, friendly and loving!

Grandma — Similar to “granny.”

Nanna — This is only common in some parts of the English-speaking world. You’ll hear it in northern England and Northeast US.

But be careful! In some countries, “nanna” can mean “godmother” (more about that later) and even “nanny,” which actually makes more sense, but is less common.

A quick note about “aunt,” “uncle,” “grandfather” and “grandmother”

In a lot of languages, people use family words like “aunt,” “uncle,” “grandfather” and “grandmother” to address old people in general — even people you don’t know.

For example, in Turkey, you might help an old lady get onto the bus and call her “auntie.”

But we don’t usually do this in English.

If you help an old lady get onto the bus in England and call her “auntie,” she’d be pretty surprised and might want someone else to help her.

Great-grandmother / great-grandfather

Family tree with great-grandmother

OK. What about your grandmother’s mother? Or your grandfather’s mother?

She’s your great-grandmother.

And her mother?

Your great-great-grandmother.

And her mother?

Your great-great-great-grandmother.

This can go on forever.

You do, of course, also get great-grandfathers, great-great-grandfathers, and so on.

Forever.

Grandparents / great-grandparents

Family tree with great-grandparents

You can also talk about your grandparents and great-grandparents.

Grandson / Granddaughter / grandchildren

Family tree with great-grandchildren

OK. Let’s go in the other direction.

Your children’s children are your grandchildren“granddaughters” for the girls and “grandsons” for the boys.

Great-grandson / great-granddaughter /great-grandchildren

Family tree with great-grandchildren

And their kids?

They’re your great-grandchildren — a collection of great-grandsons and great-granddaughters.

This also probably makes you our oldest reader — so congratulations! Keep up the good work!

Great-uncle / great-aunt

Family tree with great-aunt / grand-aunt

OK. What about your grandfather’s sister?

That’s your great-aunt.

No prizes for guessing who your grandfather’s brother is …

That’s right, it’s your dogfather.

No — just joking. It’s your great-uncle.

These are the words most people use, however, they’re not technically correct. The “correct” terms are grand-aunt / grandaunt and grand-uncle / granduncle. Click here for more about this.

Godfather / godmother / godson / goddaughter

This originally started as a religious thing but is much more general now.

Traditionally, when a child was born, the parents chose a godfather and a godmother for the child.

They would be responsible for the child’s religious education.

But these days, godfathers and godmothers are just symbolic.

However, many kids don’t have godfathers or godmothers at all anymore.

Unless they’re in the mafia, of course.

mafia
image

The whole in-law thing:

Family tree with the in-laws

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

If you want to talk about your wife’s or husband’s family, just add “in-law.”

So your wife’s sister? She’s your sister-in-law.

Your husband’s mum? She’s your mother-in-law.

You can take this to any extreme. So your wife’s cousin is your cousin-in-law.

We also have a phrase, “the in-laws,” to describe any or all of your husband’s or wife’s family as a group.

Perhaps it’s just the parents:

The in-laws have invited us for dinner.”

Or the whole family.

“That was a big wedding. I met all of the in-laws.”

Distant Family

Distant cousins

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

One of our readers, Emma, actually asked us about this in the comments section of an older post, which led me to write this one.

Thanks, Emma!

So here we go …

First cousin, second cousin, third cousin …

Your cousin (as described earlier in the post) is technically your first cousin.

Family tree with first cousin

As you can see, your first cousin is your aunt’s or uncle’s child — you both have the same grandparents.

But what about your second cousin?

Your second cousin is your mother’s cousin’s child or your father’s cousin’s child — you both share the same great-grandparents.

This can continue forever — so your third cousin shares your great-great-grandparents.

By the time we get to fifth or sixth cousins, I’d imagine we’re starting to describe almost everyone in the world.

… once removed / … twice removed, etc.

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

This is all about generations — if the person is one generation away from you, she’s once removed; if she’s two generations away from you, she’s twice removed.

It can work going down the family tree or going up it.

Let’s go down first:

Do any of your first cousins have kids?

OK — those kids are your first cousins once removed.

“First cousin” because they’re the children of your first cousin.

“Once removed” because they’re one generation below you.

Family tree with first cousin once removed

This can work upwards as well.

But not with first cousins. We already have a word for these people: aunt or uncle.

But think about your mother’s cousin (or your father’s cousin) again. This person is in your parents’ generation, right? So that’s your second cousin once removed — your second cousin’s parents.

Family tree with second cousin once removed

By this logic, you can’t have a second cousin three times removed a generation up, because that’s just your great-grandfather or great-grandmother.

As you make the tree bigger and start looking at third cousins and fourth cousins, you can get some pretty complicated family phrases, like “fourth cousin three times removed.”

I mean, how many people know their fourth cousin three times removed? That would be one tight family.

By the way, we only use “once removed,” “twice removed,” etc., after “second cousin,” “third cousin,” and so on. We don’t say, e.g., “This is my second cousin; she’s twice removed.”

Removed from what?!

Other Words for Talking About Family

Finally, let’s look at some words that describe family generally.

Family

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

Of course we have the word “family.” But how can we use it?

This is actually quite a general term. It can refer to someone in your nuclear family / immediate family (like your sister or your dad) or your more distant family (like your fourth cousin twice removed — whoever that is).

When we talk about distant family, we can also use the phrase “extended family.”

Some companies also like to talk about themselves as a “family.” (Like the “Microsoft family” or the “Bosch family.”)

Personally, I find this awful — it’s like they’re suggesting that the company you work for is just as important as your actual family. Which they’re not.

Grrrr.

Other words for “family”

The fam — It’s a shorter, more informal way of talking about your family.

Relatives

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

“Relatives” is also a general term (like “family”).

There are close relatives — like sisters, aunts or cousins — and distant relatives — your great-great-uncle or your third cousin once removed, for example.

Other words for “relatives”

Rellies — A shorter, less formal word for “relatives.”

Ancestors

Wait — what exactly does it mean?

When we talk about our ancestors, we’re usually talking about our family in a more historical way.

Imagine the people living 100 or 200 (or 1,000 or 10,000) years ago. People who you’re related to but you just don’t really know about.

The word “family” has a lot of emotional meaning behind it. The word “ancestor” is more objective.

“My ancestors came from eastern Siberia and finally settled in southern Europe in the mid 16th century.”

Descendant

This is very similar to “ancestor.”

It’s used in a more historical, objective way.

What’s the difference between a descendant and an ancestor?

Well, an ancestor is someone who lived before, but a descendant is someone who lived after.

“I want my descendants to remember my work and keep my name!”

We can also use the passive phrase “descended from” to describe where someone’s family came from:

“Did you know that your mother’s side of the family is descended from pirates! Pretty cool, huh?”


Great! You got to the end!

So now you should be able to do two things:

  • Describe more people in your family — even distant relatives.
  • Describe the people in your family in new and interesting ways.

Great work!

Let’s practice a little.

Tell me:

  1. Who’s the most distant relative that you know?
  2. Which one of your family members do you not see as often as you’d like?

Leave the answers in the comments!

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8 thoughts on “Family Vocabulary: Family Members in English

  1. First – thank you! All the material was very well presented and explained. New for me was the expression “removed”, I have never come accross with it before. So thanks once again. Looking forward to smth new!

    1. Excellent learning material.But one doubt: is it correct to say ,’older brother’. I think,in British English,it is ‘elder brother’.Kindly enlighten me.

      1. Good question.

        I would normally avoid using “elder” brother. But that’s largely because I’m British! It’s actually quite acceptable in many forms of American English.

        Thanks for commenting!

  2. Hello
    Thank you for very interesting article. You managed to put all family members in one place. It happens only during wedding celebrations and funeral services 🙂
    However I have 2 question:
    1. Should I say My older brother or my elder brother ?
    2.Is there some word for grandmother on my mother’s side and grandmother on my father’s side ?

    1. Thanks a lot Bogdan!

      Yes, sometimes the Clark and Miller blog can feel a bit like a wedding (and sometimes like a funeral! 🙂 )

      To answer your questions:

      1. I always go for “older brother,” but that’s because I’m British. “Elder brother” is actually acceptable in the US.
      2. Not as far as I know. A grandmother is just a grandmother and if you want to specify, you need to say “my grandmother … on my mother’s side.”

      Hope that helps!

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