'Family' Vocabulary in French

Vocabulaire Français de la Famille

Family eating together outdoors
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy / Getty Images

  

If you're learning to speak French, you might find yourself talking about la famille among friends and relatives quite a lot. To simplify the learning for you, this article first introduces an overview of close and extended family members in French, then clarifies some of the common misconceptions and differences between the English and French expressions. Finally, you are presented with a sample dialogue on the topic of family.

La Famille Proche (Close Family Members)

As you will see, there are a few similarities between some of the English and French vocabulary about family that might help your understanding and memorization. You might also note commonalities between the two genders, as in some cases it is possible to simply add an "e" to the end of a word to change it from masculine to feminine.

MasculineFeminine
FrenchEnglishFrenchEnglish
Un pèreFatherUne mèreMother
PapaDadMamanMom
Un grand-pèreGrandfatherUne grand-mère
(note no "e" at "grand")
Grandmother
PapyGrandpaMamie, méméGrandma
Arrière-grand-pèreGreat grandfatherArrière-grand-mèreGreat grandmother
Un épouxSpouseUne femme
(pronounced "fam") 
Spouse
Un mariHusbandUne épouseWife
Un enfantChildUne enfant
(no "e")
Child
Un fils
("L" silent, "s" pronounced)
SonUne filleDaughter
Un petit-filsGrandsonUne petite-filleGranddaughter
Les parentsParents
Les grandparentsGrandparents
Les petits-enfantsGrandchildren

La Famille Etendue (Extended Family)

MasculineFeminine
FrenchEnglishFrenchEnglish
Un oncleUncleUne tanteAunt
Un cousinCousinUne cousineCousin
Un cousin germainFirst cousinUne cousine germaineFirst cousin
Un cousin issu de germainsSecond cousinUne cousine issue de germainsSecond cousin
Un neveuNephewUne nièceNiece

Famille par Mariage (Family by Marriage) / La Famille Recomposée (Blended Family)

In French, step-family and family-in-law are labeled using the same terms: beau- or belle- plus that family member:

MasculineFeminine
FrenchEnglishFrenchEnglish
Un beau-père

Step-father

Father-in-law

Une belle-mère

Step-mother

Mother-in-law

Un beau-frère, demi-frère

A half brother

A stepbrother

Une demi-soeur, une belle-soeur

A half-sister

A stepsister

Un beau-frèreBrother-in-lawUne belle-soeurSister-in-law
Un beau-filsStep-sonUne belle-fille

Step-daughter

Un beau-fils, un gendreSon-in-lawUne belle-fille, une bruDaughter-in-law
Les beaux-parents, la belle-famille In-laws

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

Other Family Terms

MasculineFeminine
FrenchEnglishFrenchEnglish
Un aîné

Older or oldest brother

The first-born son

Une aînée

Older or oldest sister

The first-born daughter

Un cadet 

A younger brother

The second-born son

Une cadette

A younger sister

The second-born daughter

Le benjamin The youngest child in a familyLa benjamineThe youngest child in a family

Parents vs. Relatives

The phrase les parents usually refers to the parents, as in "mom and dad." However, when used as generic terms, un parent and une parente, the meaning changes into that of a "relative."

Using parent/parente can become confusing in some sentence structures. Note the use of the word des in the second sentence:

  • Mes parents sont en Angleterre. My parents [my mom and dad] are in England.

  • J’ai des parents en Angleterre. I have some relatives in England.

Because of the confusion, French speakers don’t use un parent and une parente as often as English speakers do the word “relatives.” Instead, you will hear them use the word famille. It’s singular and feminine.

  • Ma famille vient d’Alsace. My family is from Alsace.

You may add the adjective éloigné(e) (distant) to make the distinction, as in:

  • J’ai de la famille (éloignée) en Belgique. I have relatives in Belgium.

Or, you can be 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 necessarily a first cousin (child of a parent's sibling), but could be the person’s a second or third cousin.

Common Confusions

It might also be a good reminder that the adjectives “grand” and “petit” in family vocabulary don’t pertain to people’s sizes. They are rather indicators of age.

Similarly, the adjectives “beau” and “belle” don’t mean beautiful when describing family relationships, but are used for “in-law” or “step” family.

Family Vocabulary in Dialogue

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

FrenchEnglish 

Camille: Et toi, Anne, ta famille est originaire d’où? 

Camille: 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.

Anne: My family is American: French on my father's side and English on my mother's side.