Vocabulary for Family in Chinese: A Guide to Expressing Kinship

Grover Laughton9 min
Created: Apr 1, 2024Last updated: Apr 3, 2024
Family in Chinese

In China, the family has always been a pillar of society. Reflecting this, the Mandarin family vocabulary is rich. It goes beyond words for ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ and includes terms for cousins, in-laws, and even for maternal and paternal relatives. If you learn Chinese, this guide will help you understand words for family members and use them correctly in conversations.

The Concept of Family in Chinese Culture

In China, the family forms the backbone of social and cultural life. It represents stability, respect, and heritage. It’s not just a unit of parents and children but a wide network of relatives, each with a distinct role and title.

The Chinese family structure emphasizes hierarchy and respect for elders. It influences how relatives interact and the specific terms they use to address one another. For instance, different Chinese words for family members exist for younger and older brothers, highlighting the importance of age and seniority.

Respect for ancestors is crucial. Important events such as weddings often involve rituals to honor them, which shows the link between past, present, and future generations. Also, the annual Tomb Sweeping Day highlights the deep value of family and ancestry. People visit the graves of forebears, clean around them, offer food, and, most importantly, remember them.

Chinese Family Words for Closest Relatives

In Mandarin Chinese, there is a simple term for immediate family members. It includes mother, father, brother, sister, son, and daughter labels. These words serve as the base for understanding more complex terms. Let’s explore some words for the closest Chinese family members:

  • 父亲 (Fùqīn) – Father

我的父亲是一位医生,他在医院工作已经三十年了。(Wǒ de fùqīn shì yī wèi yīshēng, tā zài yīyuàn gōngzuò yǐjīng sānshí nián le.) – My father is a doctor, and he has been working in the hospital for thirty years.

  • 母亲 (Mǔqīn) – Mother

我的母亲很善良,她总是帮助需要帮助的人。(Wǒ de mǔqīn hěn shànliáng, tā zǒng shì bāngzhù xūyào bāngzhù de rén.) – My mother is very kind, and she always helps those in need.

  • 儿子 (Érzi) – Son

他们有两个儿子,都在国外读书。(Tāmen yǒu liǎng gè érzi, dōu zài guówài dúshū.) – They have two sons, both of whom are studying abroad.

  • 女儿 (Nǚ’ér) – Daughter

他的女儿今年十岁,正在学习钢琴。(Tā de nǚ’ér jīnnián shí suì, zhèngzài xuéxí gāngqín.) – His daughter is ten years old this year and is learning to play the piano.

  • 兄弟 (Xiōngdì) – Brothers

我有两个兄弟,我们经常一起去钓鱼。(Wǒ yǒu liǎng gè xiōngdì, wǒmen jīngcháng yīqǐ qù diàoyú.) – I have two brothers, and we often go fishing together.

  • 姐妹 (Jiěmèi) – Sisters

她有三个姐妹,四人关系非常亲密。(Tā yǒu sān gè jiěmèi, sì rén guānxì fēicháng qīnmì.) – She has three sisters, and the four of them are very close.

  • 夫妻 (Fūqī) – Husband and Wife

他们是一对夫妻,共同经营一家小餐馆。(Tāmen shì yī duì fūqī, gòngtóng jīngyíng yī jiā xiǎo cānguǎn.) – They are a husband and wife, running a small restaurant together.

Vocabulary for Extended Family Members in Chinese

Knowing the immediate family words is just the beginning. Mandarin vocabulary also includes words for extended family members. These encompass both paternal and maternal sides, including aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Here’s an exploration of these Chinese family terms:

  • 叔叔 (Shūshu) – Uncle (Father’s Younger Brother)

我叔叔是一位教师,他教历史。(Wǒ shūshu shì yī wèi jiàoshī, tā jiào lìshǐ.) – My uncle is a teacher; he teaches history.

  • 伯伯 (Bóbo) – Uncle (Father’s Elder Brother)

我的伯伯经营一家公司,很成功。(Wǒ de bóbo jīngyíng yī jiā gōngsī, hěn chénggōng.) – My uncle runs a company and is very successful.

  • 姑姑 (Gūgu) – Aunt (Father’s Sister)

我姑姑是一位画家,画得非常好。(Wǒ gūgu shì yī wèi huàjiā, huà de fēicháng hǎo.) – My aunt is a painter and paints very well.

  • 舅舅 (Jiùjiu) – Uncle (Mother’s Brother)

我舅舅住在北京,是一位科学家。(Wǒ jiùjiu zhù zài Běijīng, shì yī wèi kēxuéjiā.) – My uncle lives in Beijing and is a scientist.

  • 阿姨 (Āyí) – Aunt (Mother’s Sister)

我的阿姨是护士,工作很辛苦。(Wǒ de āyí shì hùshi, gōngzuò hěn xīnkǔ.) – My aunt is a nurse and works very hard.

  • 堂兄弟姐妹 (Táng xiōngdì jiěmèi) – Cousins (Paternal Side)

我有许多堂兄弟姐妹,每年春节我们都会聚在一起。(Wǒ yǒu xǔduō táng xiōngdì jiěmèi, měi nián chūnjié wǒmen dōu huì jù zài yīqǐ.) – I have many cousins on my father’s side, and we all gather together every Chinese New Year.

  • 表兄弟姐妹 (Biǎo xiōngdì jiěmèi) – Cousins (Maternal Side)

我的表姐是我最好的朋友,我们经常一起出去玩。(Wǒ de biǎo jiě shì wǒ zuì hǎo de péngyǒu, wǒmen jīngcháng yīqǐ chūqù wán.) – My cousin is my best friend, and we often go out together.

  • 祖父 (Zǔfù) – Grandfather (Paternal)

我的祖父是一位退休教师,现在他喜欢打太极。(Wǒ de zǔfù shì yī wèi tuìxiū jiàoshī, xiànzài tā xǐhuān dǎ tàijí.) – My grandfather is a retired teacher; now, he enjoys practicing Tai Chi.

  • 祖母 (Zǔmǔ) – Grandmother (Paternal)

我的祖母擅长烹饪,她的家常菜非常美味。(Wǒ de zǔmǔ shàncháng pēngrèn, tā de jiācháng cài fēicháng měiwèi.) – My grandmother is good at cooking, and her home-cooked meals are very delicious.

  • 外祖父 (Wàizǔfù) – Grandfather (Maternal)

我的外祖父以前是一名农民,他有很多关于农村的故事。(Wǒ de wàizǔfù yǐqián shì yī míng nóngmín, tā yǒu hěn duō guānyú nóngcūn de gùshì.) – My maternal grandfather was a farmer, and he has many stories about the countryside.

  • 外祖母 (Wàizǔmǔ) – Grandmother (Maternal)

我的外祖母很擅长编织,她教我做毛衣。(Wǒ de wàizǔmǔ hěn shàncháng biānzhī, tā jiào wǒ zuò máoyī.) – My maternal grandmother is skilled in knitting; she taught me how to make sweaters.

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Marriage Ties: In-Laws and Spouses in Chinese

Chinese culture highly values marriage ties. Thus, Mandarin has different words for spouses, in-laws, and even step relatives. The following word list of family members in Chinese highlights such terms:

  • 岳父 (Yuèfù) – Father-in-Law (Wife’s Father)

我的岳父是一位退休工程师。(Wǒ de yuèfù shì yī wèi tuìxiū gōngchéngshī.) – My father-in-law is a retired engineer.

  • 岳母 (Yuèmǔ) – Mother-in-Law (Wife’s Mother)

我的岳母喜欢园艺,她的花园非常漂亮。(Wǒ de yuèmǔ xǐhuān yuányì, tā de huāyuán fēicháng piàoliang.) – My mother-in-law likes gardening, and her garden is very beautiful.

  • 公公 (Gōnggong) – Father-in-Law (Husband’s Father)

我的公公前年退休,现在经常去钓鱼。(Wǒ de gōnggong qiánnián tuìxiū, xiànzài jīngcháng qù diàoyú.) – My father-in-law retired the year before last and now often goes fishing.

  • 婆婆 (Pópo) – Mother-in-Law (Husband’s Mother)

我的婆婆是个厨艺高手,她做的菜非常好吃。(Wǒ de pópo shì gè chúyì gāoshǒu, tā zuò de cài fēicháng hào chī.) – My mother-in-law is a culinary expert, and her dishes are very delicious.

  • 外甥 (Wàishēng) – Nephew (Sibling’s Son)

我的外甥是个聪明的小孩,他喜欢阅读。(Wǒ de wàishēng shì gè cōngmíng de xiǎohái, tā xǐhuān yuèdú.) – My nephew is a smart child; he likes reading.

  • 外甥女 (Wàishēngnǚ) – Niece (Sibling’s Daughter)

我外甥女今年进入大学,她学习医学。(Wǒ wàishēngnǚ jīnnián jìnrù dàxué, tā xuéxí yīxué.) – My niece entered university this year, studying medicine.

  • 姻亲 (Yīnqīn) – Relative by Marriage

春节时,我们会与所有姻亲聚会。(Chūnjié shí, wǒmen huì yǔ suǒyǒu yīnqīn jùhuì.) – During the Spring Festival, we gather with all our relatives by marriage.

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Conclusion

Mandarin offers a detailed and rich vocabulary for describing family relationships. From saying mom and dad in Chinese to identifying cousins and in-laws, each term carries specific meanings and connotations. Deepening your understanding of these words will help you fit into social conversations and deepen your insight into Chinese culture and traditions. Invest time in learning them, and watch how your command of Mandarin becomes more fluent and nuanced.

FAQ

How do the Chinese celebrate family reunions during festivals?

Family reunions in China, especially during the Lunar New Year, involve shared meals, exchanging red envelopes, and honoring ancestors. These gatherings strengthen familial bonds and cultural ties.

How do Chinese children address non-relative adults?

Children in China often address non-relative adults with respectful Chinese words for family members, like 叔叔 (Shūshu) (uncle) or 阿姨 (Āyí) (aunt). These indicate politeness and respect in societal relationships.

Can you change your family name in China?

Changing a family name in China is extremely rare and involves a legal process. Traditionally, it carries significant cultural and ancestral importance.

Where can I learn other Chinese vocabulary?

For learning words beyond family members in Mandarin, online dictionaries like MDBG and YellowBridge offer definitions, examples, and pronunciation guides. Also, the Chinese language learning app by Promova is a comprehensive tool, as it provides vocabulary lists, recorded pronunciations, and more.

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