How to talk about members of the family in French
Published on November 3, 2022 / Updated on January 3, 2024
Family-related vocabulary in French is important to learn. It’s one of the most common ice-breakers you can use when you’re meeting someone for the first time. And it could even help you make some deeper friends, since introducing your family members in French can be a way to talk about yourself in more detail. Of course, the range of words you need to memorize can increase significantly depending on whether you want to talk about your immediate family or extended family. To help you along, we’ve made you a guide to French family vocabulary.
La famille proche (immediate family) is made of the closest membres de la famille (family members) appearing in un arbre généalogique (family tree). From a grammatical point of view, if la famille is a feminine word in French, the words for the various family members follow the usual gender of the people they are referring to:
|a parent/a relative
|un époux/une épouse
|a girl, a daughter
|a cousin (male)
|a cousin (female)
Considering the close ties usually shared in an immediate family, there are also several affectionate words to describe its members:
|Endearing word for “uncle”
It’s interesting to note that there is no translation for the word “sibling” in French. Instead, you need the longer phrase frères et sœurs (brothers and sisters) to convey the meaning of “sibling”. With it, there comes une hiérarchie des âges (age hierarchy) of sorts among the siblings, from the oldest to the youngest.
Un.e aîné.e refers to the eldest child in a family. By extension, it can also designate an elder or a senior person. Conversely, un.e cadet.te refers either to the youngest child or the second child in a family, and by extension to a person younger than you. Finally, un.e benjamin.e may also refer to the youngest child, as well as the third child in a family.
If you happen not to have any brother or sister, then you are un enfant unique (only child), or more specifically un fils unique (an only son) or une fille unique (an only daughter).
In a rather cute way, la belle famille (literally, “the beautiful family”) is the phrase designating in-laws. In effect, the French adjective beau (or belle in its feminine form) is attached to the relevant words of family members to refer to in-laws.
|un beau-filsun gendre
|une belle-filleune bru
As you may have noted, there are two words for “son-in-law” and “daughter-in-law”. While gendre is still commonly used to refer to a “son-in-law”, bru (“daughter-in-law”) is rarer and more old-fashioned. It may even carry a negative connotation.
Modern France has an increasing number of familles recomposées (blended families). There are two main adjectives to know in order to describe the various members of a blended family in French.
As with in-laws, beau and belle refer to family members with whom you only have a legal connection, and no blood relation. As such, only the context of the conversation will help you determine if you’re talking about in-laws or a stepfamily. It’s also worth noting that gendre and bru are used only to refer to a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law, but not a stepson or a stepdaughter. The same goes for un beau-frère and une belle-sœur, which can only refer to a brother-in-law and a sister-in-law. There are simply no specific words to designate a stepbrother or a stepsister.
If you share just one parent with someone, then you need to add the adjectif demi (half) before frère and demie before sœur.
Here is the full list of words for members of a stepfamily:
Potentially less common, the case of adopting families is also important to mention, with three adjectives to remember: adoptif/adoptive (adopting), adopté.e (adopted) and biologique (biological).
|des parents adoptifs
|des parents biologiques
|un père adoptif
|an adoptive father
|un père biologique
|a biological father
|une mère adoptive
|an adoptive mother
|une mère biologique
|a biological mother
|les enfants adoptés
|un fils adopté
|an adopted son
|une fille adoptée
|an adopted daughter
So there you have it! All the words you need to talk about the members of the family in French. We hope learning this vocabulary will prove priceless when you want to help people understand where – and who – you come from in French.