The Beginner’s Guide to Talking About Family in English
Talking about yourself generally leads people to start asking about your family.
Have you noticed how people love talking about them? I know I do, and I’m sure you do too.
Here are some general vocabulary terms and phrases in English you’ll need to tell everyone about your awesome family!
- How to Talk Effortlessly About Your Family in English
- Terms to Describe Types of Family Structures
- 12 Expressions You’ll Need to Understand and Use to Describe Your Family
How to Talk Effortlessly About Your Family in English
People generally begin a conversation about family with a simple “Do you have any family around here?” or “Tell me about your family.” If that’s the case, you can give a short description that tells the other person how big is your family is and maybe where they live.
Here’s an example:
There are six people in my family—me, my parents, brother and two sisters and we live in [your city or country].
This gives a general picture of your family and gets the conversation going.
And depending on where that conversation takes you, you’ll want to have the following words in your arsenal!
Terms to Describe Types of Family Structures
You’ll need to be familiar with family structures to accurately describe your family members.
Your immediate family—talking about those closest to you
Typical questions in this type of situation are “How big is your family?” or “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” When people ask this, they usually want to know about your immediate family. Your immediate family refers to the relatives (family members) closest to you and who may or may not live with you.
If you’re single, your immediate family will include your parents—father and mother—and your siblings—brothers and sisters. You and your siblings are your parents’ children. A male child is a son and a female child is a daughter.
Maybe your parents are no longer married to each other. If your dad marries someone else, his new wife will be your step-mother and if your mom remarries, her new husband will be your step-father. The children your step-mother or step-father already have will then become your step-brothers and step-sisters.
When you marry, you’ll have a family of your own. Your immediate family will then be your spouse—husband or wife—and children—sons and daughters. If you’re a woman, your spouse would be your husband and if you’re a man, your spouse would be your wife.
Your extended family—discussing other family members related by blood
People might ask questions like “Do you live with your grandparents?” or “How often do you see your cousins?” when they’re interested in finding out about your extended family. Your extended family includes relatives like your grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.
The parents of your father and mother are your grandparents—grandfather and grandmother. Your mother’s parents are your maternal grandparents while your father’s parents are your paternal grandparents. And you are their grandson or granddaughter.
If your parents have brothers and sisters, then you have uncles and aunts. Your uncle is the brother of your father or mother and your aunt is your mother or father’s sister.
The children of your uncles and aunts are your cousins. Your male cousin would be your parents’ nephew and your female cousin would be their niece.
Your family by marriage—discussing family related to your spouse
When you marry, your family grows bigger. You now have a new set of relatives from your spouse’s side of the family called your in-laws. Isn’t that exciting?
A question you might hear is “Does your spouse come from a big family?” The conversation might not go this way, but if it does, you’ll be ready!
Your spouse’s father will become your father-in-law, and your spouse’s mother will be your mother-in-law. If your spouse has a brother, he’ll become your brother-in-law and your spouse’s sister will be your sister-in-law. The children of your brothers- and sisters-in-law will then become your nephews and nieces.
All right, let’s move on to some useful expressions you can use to talk about your family relationships.
12 Expressions You’ll Need to Understand and Use to Describe Your Family
To look like
To look like means to resemble someone physically or to be similar in appearance to someone.
If you’re tall with big eyes like your older sister, you’d say, “I look like my older sister.”
To take after
To take after means to look or behave (act) like someone older than you in your family.
Some of your family may walk, talk or even smile just like another family member. So if your father and sister both like to gesture with (move) their hands when talking, you’d say, “My sister takes after my father in the way she waves her hands around when she talks.”
To run in the family
To run in the family refers to a quality, ability or skill that’s shared by all or many of your family members. Some families may have lots of members who are good at sports, music, cooking, etc.
It could also be that many of your family members have thick curly hair, so then you’d say “Thick curly hair runs in my family.”
Like father, like son
In many cases, a son’s character or behavior closely resembles (is similar to) that of his father. For example, if both your father and brother like to spend their money wisely, you’d say, “He spends money like his dad—like father, like son.”
Another expression that’s similar in meaning is a chip off the old block. In this expression, the chip refers to a small piece of wood (the son) that’s part of a bigger piece or the block (the father). So then you’d say “My brother is a chip off the old block.”
Both of the above expressions are generally used when referring to male members of the family.
To have something in common
The expression to have something in common refers to two or more people in a family sharing similar interests, likes and dislikes.
If you’re asked, “What do you and your family like to do?” you could talk about your shared interests. “My siblings, cousins and I have many things in common. We enjoy camping, cycling and playing board games.”
The opposite of this would be “I don’t have much in common with my brothers. They’re much older than me and we have different interests.”
To be named after
To be named after someone is to give someone the same name (usually the same first name) as an older family member. This is commonly done in honor and respect for the older person.
For example, if you say, “I was named after my grandmother,” it would mean you have the same name as your grandmother. So if your grandmother’s name is Esther, your name would also be Esther.
To get along with
To get along with means to have a good relationship with someone.
If you say, “I get along very well with my younger sister,” it means you agree on many things and have a good relationship. The opposite would be “I don’t get along with my cousin,” which means the relationship between you and your cousin isn’t very good.
To be on good terms
To be on good terms also means to have a good relationship with someone.
If you and your sister get along very well, then you’d say, “I’m on good terms with my sister.” The opposite would be “I’m not on good terms with my cousin.” If you and your cousin are not even talking to each other, you’d say, “I’m not on speaking terms with my cousin.”
To be close to
To be close to means that you have a close relationship that cannot easily be broken.
If you say, “I’m very close to my mother and sister,” you’re saying that the three of you enjoy being together, get along very well and have a strong relationship.
To look up to
To look up to means to respect and admire someone else.
If you say, “I’ve always looked up to my older brother,” it means you respect and admire the things he says and does.
To get together
To get together means to meet up and do things together.
If someone asks you, “How often do you see your family?” you might say, “We get together every weekend to play soccer, watch a movie or eat pizza.”
To start a family
To start a family means to start having children. You might hear your parents ask you, “When are you and your husband/wife going to start a family? I want grandchildren!”
Or maybe your brother just sent a text and so you call your best friend saying, “I just heard that my brother and sister-in-law are planning to start a family. That means I’m going to become an aunt (or uncle) soon!”
So there, now you’re ready to answer any question about your family, whether you’re on that summer vacation or at that weekend barbecue.
Don’t just memorize these words, though. The best way to learn family vocabulary is to see them used by real English speakers.
You can do that by reading English books, listening to English music or watching English videos. These resources can show you other vocabulary and phrases that you would want to use in daily conversation. They can also describe the situations in which certain expressions or terms are appropriate.
Certain language learning programs can also help you learn everyday phrases in context. One example is FluentU, which uses authentic English videos that are made for and by native speakers. Each clip comes with interactive subtitles that explain any word or expression used, and you can review vocabulary with flashcards and quizzes.
The more you practice, the more you can talk freely about your lovely family. And if any of your relatives are about to start their own family, you’ll have more parties to attend and more opportunities to use this awesome vocabulary!