HOW TO TALK ABOUT YOUR FAMILY IN CHINESE
Nǐ jiā yǒu jǐ kǒu rén?
How many people are there in your family?
Wǒ jiā yǒu ___kǒu rén.
My family has ___ people.
So now let’s take a look who makes up your family.
To talk about your family in Chinese is also a way of understanding the importance of family in Chinese culture and how central it is to society, in both ancient and modern times. And today we will look at how complicated a Chinese family seems to be on the outside and why unlike the English language, each family member has a specific form of address.
The traditional Chinese family structure was born from an innately patriarchal Chinese society, like other cultures too it has to be said, where the men where the breadwinners and providers. Men taking up their position as the head of their family. So the bloodline determined the term of address and distinguishes the paternal side from the maternal side. This is emphasised as some terms for the mother’s side of the family feature the character 外, which means outside, ranking them before the father’s side. Times have changed and gender imbalance is being addressed and has come a long way but these traditional terms still remain.
Age is also very important as the elders and seniors of a Chinese family command the utmost respect and reverence. This also becoming a factor when distinguishing family terms. In English you put an adjective in front of brother or sister to indicate whether they are older or younger but the Chinese language will offer entirely different terms for older brother/sister and younger brother/sister.
Still confused. Things will become clearer. Let’s get down to it. We aim to provide a comprehensive list of family terms.
Your immediate family
bàba - 爸爸- father
māmɑ - 妈妈- mother
ɡēɡe - 哥哥- elder brother
dìdi - 弟弟- younger brother
Xiōngdì - 兄弟– brothers e.g. 你有兄弟吗？
jiějie - 姐姐- elder sister
mèimei - 妹妹- younger sister
Jiěmèi - 姐妹– sisters e.g. 你有姐妹吗？
yéye - 爷爷- grandfather (father’s side)
nǎinɑi - 奶奶- grandmother (father’s side)
wàiɡōnɡ - 外公- grandfather (mother’s side)
wàipó - 外婆- grandmother (mother’s side)
Extra phrase: dúshēngzǐnǚ - 独生子女– only child
*Obviously China used to adopt the infamous one-child policy so there are many only children, this is why the terms ɡēɡe, dìdi, jiějie, mèimei are frequently used as endearing and affectionate terms for close cousins and even friends.
zhàngfu - 丈夫- husband
qīzi - 妻子- wife
Érzi - 儿子- son
nǚ'ér - 女儿- daughter
sūnzi - 孙子- grandson
sūnnǚ - 孙女- granddaughter
nánpéngyǒu - 男朋友- boyfriend
nǚpéngyǒu - 女朋友- girlfriend
Your extended family
tánggē - 堂哥- elder male cousin (father’s side)
tángdì- 堂弟- younger male cousin (father’s side)
tángjiě - 堂姐- elder female cousin (father’s side)
tángmèi - 堂妹– younger female cousin (father’s side)
biǎoɡē - 表哥- elder male cousin (mother’s side)
biǎodì- 表弟- younger male cousin (mother side)
biáojiě - 表姐- elder female cousin (mother side)
biáomèi - 表妹- younger female cousin (mother’s side)
sǎozi - 嫂子- sister-in –law (Elder brother’s wife)
dìmèi - 弟妹- sister-in-law (younger brother’s wife)
jiěfu - 姐夫- brother-in-law (elder sister’s husband)
mèifu- 妹夫- brother-in-law (younger sister’s husband)
bófù - 伯父- uncle (father’s side)
gūgu - 姑姑- aunt (father’s side)
jiùjiu - 舅舅- uncle (mother’s side)
yímā - 姨妈- aunt (mother’s side)
You will hear the following words a lot, shūshu (叔叔) and Āyí (阿姨), respectively meaning uncle and aunt, however these are now popular terms to greet strangers who are older than you or who are your senior.
Isn’t a Chinese family complicated haha. So now can you introduce your family and even write a family tree.