Vocabulary to describe family connections, family members, birth order, types of families, family values and family relationships.


Family connections

Family (noun)
 – People who are related to each other by blood or marriage.
 – Refers to the children of a family.
 – Refers to descendants of a common ancestor.

Nuclear family 
– (noun) Family unit consisting of two parents and one or more children as a unit.

Immediate family
– (noun) Family that includes one’s parents, partner, children and siblings.

Extended family
– (noun) The larger family that includes aunts, uncles, grandparents in addition to parents and children.

When we say “family,” it is usually assumed that we are referring to either our nuclear family, or both nuclear and extended family. In everyday English, we do not typically refer to our “nuclear family” or “extended family” unless you really want to clarify it.

  • “After work, I’m going home to have dinner with my family.”
  • “We usually spend Chinese New Year with family.”
  • “Friends of mine don’t want to invite their extended family in order to keep their wedding small.”

Relative or Relation 
– (noun) A member of your family.

Using “relative” is more idiomatic.

  • “They tried to invite most of their relatives to the wedding but they couldn’t get in touch with some of them.”

Related by blood
– (expression) Related by birth, sharing biological ancestors, or having common genetic heritage.

Blood relative/relation
– (noun) Anyone who is related to you by blood.

Related by marriage
– (expression) Someone who married a blood relative and has become part of the family.

  • “My aunt’s a relative by marriage, but I like her more than all my other blood relatives.”

(Someone)’s own flesh and blood
– (idiom) To refer to someone’s blood relations.

  • “You have to Wally, he’s your own flesh and blood.

– (adjective) Related by blood/birth.

You can use this with nouns to refer to members of your family.
 – Biological family
 – Biological parent/mother/father
 – Biological sibling/brother/sister

Birth is a synonym.
 – Birth family
 – Birth parent/mother/father
 – Birth sibling/brother/sister

When we refer to “family” or “relatives,” it is usually assumed they are related by blood unless you want to clarify it.

  • “Unfortunately you can’t choose your biological family.”
  • “Eve’s birth mother finally contacted her after 20 years.”

– (old-fashioned noun) Family and relations.

Next of kin
– (formal expression) Your closest living relation or relations.

Usually “next of kin” is used when someone has died and the next of kin has to be contacted.

  • “We will release the names when their next of kin have been notified.”

– (noun) How someone was treated and educated as a child.

  • “Her upbringing was totally different to mine.”

– (noun) – a single step or stage in a line of descent from an ancestor.

Examples of three generations:
 – 1 generation – yourself, your siblings and your cousins.
 – 1 generation – your parents, uncles, aunties and their cousins.
 – 1 generation – your grandparents, grand-uncles, grand-aunties and their cousins.

  • “This estate has been in the family for generations.”

– (adjective) The passing on of genes from parent to child.

Run in the family
– (idiom) A quality, ability, or disease that many members of the family have.

  • “I’m not sure if it’s hereditary but music has always run in the family.

– (noun) Two people who look alike or are similar to each other in some way. This is often used with the verb “bear.”

Be the spitting image of (somebody)
– (idiom) To look extremely similar to someone.

Usually we would use this to compare a child to an older relative.

  • “Hes the spitting image of his father but he really doesn’t bear any resemblance to his mother.”

Take after (somebody)
– (phrasal verb) To be similar to an older member of your family in appearance or character.

  • “Eve really takes after her grandma. She sings just like her.”

Family members

– (noun) A mother or father of a person.

(Someone)’s folks
– (plural noun) Someone’s parents.

  • “We always have dinner with my folks on the weekends.”

– (noun, formal) Someone’s parent or direct ancestor.

This is often used in academics and can be used to refer to plants or animals.

  • “A child has a male progenitor and a female progenitor.

– (singular noun) A son or daughter of any age of a parent.

– (noun) A brother or sister.

  • “Do you have any siblings?”

– (noun) The parent of your parent, or your grandmother or grandfather.

– (prefix) Used with nouns to describe older relatives.

“Great-grandparent” is the parent of your grandparent. “Great-great-grandparent is the parent of your great-grandparent.

  • “I saw a video of someone’s mother, grandmothergreat-grandmother and great-great-grandmother.”

– (suffix) Through marriage.

This is used with nouns to describe different members of your spouse’s family.
 – Parents-in-law
 – Parent/Mother/Father-in-law
 – Sister/Brother-law

– (noun, informal) Parents-in-law or other members of your spouse’s family.

  • “I can get quite nervous around my in-laws. Thankfully my mother-in-law is very friendly.”

Mother’s/Father’s side of the family
– (phrase) To refer to your mother’s or your father’s family.

– (adjective) Like a father, or relating to the father’s side of the family.

– (adjective) Like a mother, or relating to the mother’s side of the family.

  • “He’s closer to his father’s side of the family but he hasn’t met many relatives on his maternal side.”

Birth order

– (noun, adjective) The first child of a set of parents.

Elder or Older
– (adjective) The firstborn of two people.

Eldest or Oldest
– (adjective) The firstborn of three people.

It is very common to hear native speakers use “eldest” or “oldest” to compare 2 children—even if it is grammatically incorrect.

  • “Even though he has an older sister, he’s the firstborn son in the family.”

Middle child 
– (common term) The child between the oldest child and youngest child in a family.

Often associated with this is “middle child syndrome.” This refers to the feeling of exclusion because of their placement in the family’s birth order. There are questions as to whether this is real or not since there has not been much reliable scientific evidence.

– (adjective) The last born of two people.

– (adjective) The last child born of three or more children.

Again, it is very common to hear native speakers use “youngest” to compare two children even if it is grammatically incorrect.

  • “I’m the youngest and Eve’s the middle child.”

Only child
– (noun) A child with no siblings.

  • “My dad was the only child until he was 12.”

Types of families

– (adjective) – parent or family who has legally taken another person’s child as their own child.

You can use this with nouns to refer to members of your family.
 – Adoptive family
 – Adoptive parent/mother/father
 – Adoptive sibling/brother/sister

  • “My adoptive family has been really supportive about helping me find my biological family.”
  • “His biological mother gave him up to his adoptive parents when he was 9 months old.”

– (adjective) The child that was taken in by adoptive parents.

  • “I found out I was adopted when my biological brother contacted my family.”

– (prefix) Used with nouns to describe family members who are not related by blood but by marriage of a parent.

This can be used with nouns to refer to members of your family.
 – Stepfamily
 – Stepparent/mother/father
 – Stepsibling/sister/brother
 – Stepchild/children

A stepfamily is also known as a blended family (noun), where one or both parents have children from a previous relationship.

  • “It’s important for stepparents to create good relationships with their stepchildren.”

– (prefix) Used with nouns to describe family members who are related through 1 parent.

– “Half-sibling/-brother/-sister” would either have the same mother or the same father.
– “Half-aunt/-uncle” would be your parent’s half-sister/brother.
Terms like “half-family” or “half-parent” do not exist.

  • “They didn’t know they had a half-brother until their father passed away.”

– (adjective) Having parents or ancestors of different races.

– (adjective) Having parents of two or more different races.

– (adjective) Having parents of two different races,

– (adjective) Involving different races.

Marriages with spouses that come from different races are typically described as “interracial.” And children with parents that belong to different races are typically described as “mixed-race,” “biracial” or “multiracial.”

  • Interracial marriages were forbidden by law not that long ago.”
  • Multiracial families have become more common in recent years.”

Family structure

Family values
– (noun) Traditional or cultural values that pertain to the family’s structure, function, roles, beliefs, attitudes, and ideals.

  • “Some family values are just unable to withstand the test of time.”

Blood is thicker than water
– (saying) To emphasise that family connections are more important than other types of relationships.

Family hierarchy
– (noun) The structure where parents possess greater power and authority than their children.

Head of the family
– (common term) A person who is the leader or in a position of authority of a family.

– (noun) A male leader of a family or tribe.

– (noun) A female leader of a family or tribe.

These terms of hierarchy are usually associated with more traditional family values or cultures.

  • “It’s quite common for a matriarch to emerge after a patriarch has passed away.”

Family relationships

Favourite child
– (common term) A child that a parent prefers over their other children.

Sibling rivalry
– (noun) The competition and argument among brothers and sisters.

  • “Some sibling rivalry can be healthy, but it became toxic when I realised my brother was my parents’ favourite child.”

Get along or Get on
– (phrasal verb) To have a good relationship.

Get along/on like a house on fire 
– (informal idiom) People who like each other very much and become friends very quickly.

  • “I’d like to get along with my in-laws like a house on fire but the truth is that I don’t really get along with them at all.”

– (adjective) To describe an immediate family member, or people who like each other and know each other very well.

Close-knit or Tight-knit 
– (adjective) – Bound together by strong relationships and common interests.

  • “I come from a pretty close-knit family. We don’t really keep secrets from each other.”

– (adjective) To give help and encouragement.

  • “My parents have been surprisingly supportive of my decision to pursue my career.”

Loved one(s)
– (noun) People you love, usually family members.

  • “It’s important to have the support of your loved ones.”

Respect (verb, noun)
– Politeness, honour, and care shown towards someone or something that is considered important
 – Admiration felt or shown for someone or something that you believe has good qualities or ideas.

– (verb) Respect and approve of someone or their behaviour.

Look up to (somebody)
– (phrasal verb) Admire and respect someone.

Usually “look up to” is used to refer to someone younger looking up to someone older.

  • “Sure they don’t always make great role models, but it’s important to treat your parents and elders with respect.”
  • “He’s always looked up to his dad. He really admires how he has constantly worked hard to provide for his family even through difficult times.”
Subtle differences: Admire or Respect

“Respect” is usually toward someone, and is more of an attitude that includes high regard, good opinion and honour. You could respect someone without agreeing with, liking or admiring them.

“Admire” can be used toward someone or something, and is more of a positive emotion that includes wonder and approval. You can admire but cannot respect a piece of artwork. To me, it would also be difficult to admire someone without also respecting them on some level.

Fall out
– (phrasal verb) Have an argument or disagreement that ends the relationship. 

Falling-out (informal noun)

  • “My uncle had a falling-out with our grandfather years ago and we haven’t seen him since.”

Put up with (somebody/something)
– (phrasal verb) To be willing to accept someone or something that is unpleasant or not desirable.

  • “I have to put up with my uncle every Christmas dinner. I mean, blood is thicker than water and all that.”

Other related vocabulary

The word “family” is often used with other nouns to create compound nouns.

Family background
– (common term) Your family’s experience of education, living conditions, money etc.

Family gathering
– (noun) A party or meeting where family members come together as a group.

Get together
– (phrasal verb) To gather or assemble socially, or to cooperate.

Family get-together
– (noun) Informal meeting or social occasion for the family.

  • “My mother likes to organise the family gatherings for special occasions and holidays but I prefer the smaller get-togethers with just our grandparents.”

– (noun) A group of people who live together, typically a single family.

To clarify:
 – A “family” refers to the members that are related to each other.
 – A “household” refers to the people living together under the same roof.

  • “The average Australian household has 17 connected devices.”

Family movie/film
– (noun) A movie genre that is appropriate for younger viewers but also appealing to a wide range of ages.

  • “I enjoy family movies because they usually have an uplifting story line and a happy ending.”

Family Feud
– (noun) A popular American television game show where two families compete to name the most popular responses to survey questions.

Family name
– (noun) A synonym for surname or last name, which is usually the name you share with other members of your family.

  • “Smith is a very common family name.”

Name (somebody/something) after (somebody/something)
– (phrasal verb) Give someone or something the same name as another person or thing.

This is often done as an honour or tribute within families.

  • “Wally was named after his grandfather, Walter.”

Original posts: 26 September 2020