'Family' Vocabulary in French

Vocabulaire Français de la Famille

Family eating together outdoors
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Family is important no matter what language you speak. If you're learning how to speak French, you'll find yourself talking about la familie (the family) among friends and relatives. French vocabulary relating to family falls into three categories: close family, extended family members, and the family tree.

Close Family

The words un parent and une parente are used as generic terms for the "relative." But watch out.

This word could get you in trouble because of a similar phrase, les parents, which usually refers to Mom and Dad, for example:

  • Les parents de Sophie sont charmants. > Sophie’s mom and dad are charming.
  • Mes parents me manquent. > I miss my mom and dad.

Using parent/parente can become confusing in some sentence constructions. Note the use of the word des (of the) in the first sentence:

  • J’ai des parents en Angleterre. > I have some relatives in England.
  • Mes parents sont en Angleterre. > My parents [my mom and dad] are in England.

To avoid this confusion, use the word familie instead. It’s singular and feminine. You may add the adjective éloigné(e) (distant) to make the distinction, as in:

  • Ma famille vient d’Alsace. > My family is from Alsace.
  • J’ai de la famille (éloignée) en Belgique. > I have relatives in Belgium.

Extended Family Members

Because of the confusion, French speakers don’t use un parent and une parente as often as English speakers do.

Instead, the French language is more specific about identifying relationships, as in

  • J’ai un cousin aux Etats-Unis. > I have a cousin in the U.S.
  • J’ai un cousin éloigné aux Etats-Unis. > I have a distant cousin in the U.S.

In French, this means s/he is not a first cousin (child of a parent's sibling), but a second or third cousin.

French does not have a special word for a stepsibling. The dictionary would say un beau-frère or une belle-soeur (the same as half-brother or half-sister), but in everyday French, you might use a phrase like quasi frèrequasi soeur (almost brother, almost sister) or explain your relationship using your stepparent.

The Family Tree

Understanding the terms of the French family tree can be a bit confusing, particularly because of the different uses depending on gender.

 MasculineFeminine
EnglishFrenchEnglishFrench
FatherUn pèreMotherUne mère
DadPapaMomMaman
GrandfatherUn grand-pèreGrandmotherUne grand-mère
(note no e at grand)
HusbandUn mariWifeUne femme
(pronounced "fam")
ChildUn enfant Une enfant
(no e)
SonUn fils
(L silent, s pronounced)
DaughterUne fille
GrandchildrenLes petits-enfants  
GrandsonUn petit-filsGranddaughterUne petite-fille
UncleUn oncleAuntUne tante
CousinUn cousinCousinUne cousine
First cousinUn cousin germainFirst cousinUne cousine germaine
Second cousinUn cousin issu de germainsSecond cousinUne cousine issue de germains
NephewUn neveuNieceUne nièce
A stepfather
A father-in-law 
 
Un beau-pèreA stepmother
A mother-in-law
Une belle-mère
 
A half brotherUn demi-frèreA half-sisterUne demi-soeur
A stepbrotherUn demi-frèreA stepsisterUne demi-soeur

Family Vocabulary in Dialogue

To aid in learning French family vocabulary, view the terms as used in a simple dialogue, as in this example where Camille et Anne parlent de leurs familles (Camille and Ann are talking about their families).

  • Camille: Et toi, Anne, ta famille est originaire d’où? > What about you, Anne, where is your family from?
  • Anne: Ma famille est américaine: Du côté de ma famille paternelle, j’ai des origines françaises, et des origines anglaises du côté maternelle. > My family is American: French on my father's side and English on my mother's side.