How to talk about members of the family in French

How to talk about members of the family in French

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated November 9, 2022

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.

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Introducing close family members in French

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:

une.e parent.ea parent/a relative
un pèrea father
une mèrea mother
un maria husband
une femmea wife
un époux/une épousea spouse
les enfantschildren
un filsa son
une fillea girl, a daughter
un frèrea brother
une sœura sister
un onclean uncle
une tante an aunt
un neveua nephew
une niècea niece
un cousina cousin (male)
une cousinea cousin (female)
les grands-parentsgrandparents
un grand-pèrea grandfather
une grand-mèrea grandmother
un arrière-grand-pèrea great-grandfather
une arrière-grand-mèrea great-grandmother
les petits-enfantsgrandchildren
un petit-filsa grandson
une petite-fillea granddaughter
un arrière-petit-filsa great-grandson
une arrière-petite-fillea great-granddaughter

Considering the close ties usually shared in an immediate family, there are also several affectionate words to describe its members:

tontonEndearing word for “uncle”
tata, tatieauntie

The age hierarchy among siblings

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).

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The in-laws in French

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. 

des beaux-parentsparents-in-law
un beau-pèrefather-in-law
une belle-mèremother-in-law
des beaux-enfantschildren-in-law
un beau-filsun gendreson-in-law
une belle-filleune brudaughter-in-law
un beau-frèrebrother-in-law
une belle-sœursister-in-law

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.

The members of a blended family in French

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:

des beaux-parentsstepparents
un beau-pèrea stepfather
une belle-mèrea stepmother
des beaux-enfantsstepchildren
un beau-filsa stepson
une belle-fillea stepdaughter
un demi-frèrea half-brother
une demie-sœura half-sister

The adopting family in French

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 adoptifsadoptive parents
des parents biologiquesbiological parents
un père adoptifan adoptive father
un père biologiquea biological father
une mère adoptivean adoptive mother
une mère biologiquea biological mother
les enfants adoptésadopted children
un fils adoptéan adopted son 
une fille adoptéean adopted daughter

Welcome to the French family!

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.

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Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

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