How to Talk to (or About) Family and Friends in Chinese

Friends. Food. Feelings. Identities. Weather. Family.

Maybe you’re someone who believes labels are too restrictive.

That’s totally understandable and okay.

Lots of labels can be unnecessary and limiting!

But on a practical level, language irrevocably revolves around labeling just about everything in some way.

And being able to identify different family members and familial relationships in Chinese is vital.

Whether you’re staying with a host family while studying Mandarin abroad or just want to improve your overall vocabulary, you’ll need to know who the different people in a family are in relation to each other, and what words you need to use to refer to or address them.

Luckily, Chinese family words are super easy to learn.

There are, however, quite a lot of them.

So let’s get started!


Why Should I Learn Chinese Family Words?

  • The more expansive your vocabulary is, the more fluent you become. Like with food and other basic concepts, learning Mandarin family words is not only a necessity for beginner learners, but an easy way to increase your vocabulary knowledge and take one more step towards fluency.

Another easy way to increase your vocabulary is by using FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Click here to check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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Who’s Who in a Chinese Family? 38 Vocab Words for Learners

Host Family Vocabulary Words

寄宿家庭 (jì sù jiā tíng) — host family

This term is usually used when talking about one’s host family, but not for directly addressing them.

我的寄宿家庭非常慷慨。(wǒ de jì sù jiā tíng fēi cháng kāng kǎi.) — My host family is very generous.

家庭 (jiā tíng) — family

This phrase works best for addressing a room full of family members or host family members.

早上好,家庭! (zǎo shang hǎo, jiā tíng!) — Good morning, family!

家人 (jiā rén) — family member, lit. “family person”

When it comes to addressing or speaking of individual members of your host family, you wouldn’t use terms like “cousin” or “little sister” unless you’re fairly close to them. Using descriptive family terms for people you don’t know really well comes off a bit strange.

For this reason, using 家人 or a person’s name is the best route to take. It’s also a great term to use when describing someone else’s family member if you don’t know the details of how they’re related.

我的家人非常聪明。(wǒ de jiā rén fēi cháng cōng míng.) — My family member is very smart.

朋友 (péng yǒu) — friend

Use this term to describe a close roommate or friend. You can use 朋友 to address your friend as well, but using their name is a little more common.

我的朋友艾米莉总是问 “吃了吗?” (wǒ de péng yǒu ai mǐ lì zǒng shì wèn “chī le ma?”) — My friend Emily always asks, “Have you eaten?”

死党 (sǐ dǎng) — best friend

Literally, “side kick.” You can use this term to describe your best friend, or address them (but it may be a bit better to use their name instead).

我的死党是最好的。(wǒ de sǐ dǎng shì zuì hǎo de.) — My best friend is awesome.

亲戚 (qīn qī) — relative

This term is used when describing someone, not when speaking to them.

她是亲戚吗?(tā shì qīn qī ma?) — Is she a relative?

室友 (shì yǒu) — roommates or housemates

If you’re close with your roommates, you can use this term as a sort of tongue-in-cheek way to address them. Otherwise, use 室友 when speaking about your roommates.

她的室友很搞笑。(tā de shì yǒu hěn gǎo xiào.) — Her roommate is hilarious.

闺蜜 (guī mì) — best female friend

This term is used to describe or address women only.

闺蜜,你今天看起来很可爱!(guī mì, nǐ jīn tiān kàn qǐ lái hěn kě’ài!) — Best friend, you look so cute today!

兄弟 (xiōng dì) — best male friend

This term is used to describe or address men only.

我的兄弟可以说俄语。(wǒ de xiōng dì kě yǐ shuō è yǔ.) — My best friend can speak Russian.

General Family Vocabulary Words

兄弟姐妹 (xiōng dì jiě mèi) — siblings

It’s most common to address one’s siblings by their names or by “brother” or “sister.” This term is good for describing a group of siblings.

我母亲有十二个兄弟姐妹。(wǒ mǔ qīn yǒu shí’èr gè xiōng dì jiě mèi.) — My mother has twelve different siblings.

父母 (fù mǔ) — parents

Use this term when describing parents, but not when addressing them.

我的父母正在衰老。(wǒ de fù mǔ zhèng zài shuāi lǎo.) — My parents are getting older.

父亲 (fù qīn) — father

This phrase is good for addressing and speaking of fathers. This is a more formal term to use.

他的父亲是一名警察。(tā de fù qīn shì yī míng jǐng chá.) — His father is a policeman.

母亲 (mǔ qin) — mother

This phrase is good for addressing and speaking of a mother. This is also a more formal term to use.

我的母亲是世界上最善良的女人。(wǒ de mǔ qīn shì shì jiè shàng zuì shàn liáng de nǚ rén.) — My mother is the kindest woman in the world.

爸爸 (bàba) — dad

This term is best used when addressing one’s father, but 父亲 should generally be used when speaking of a father. However, using this more affectionate term still works when talking to close people about one’s father.

爸爸去了哪里?(bà ba qù le nǎ lǐ?) — Where did Dad go?

妈妈 (māma) — mom

This term is best used when addressing one’s mother, but 母亲 should be used when speaking of a mother. As with 爸爸, you can also use this term when speaking about your mom with close friends or family.

我爱你妈妈。(wǒ ài nǐ, mā mā.) — I love you, Mom.

哥哥 (gē ge) — elder brother

Use 哥哥 when describing an elder brother or addressing him directly, as with the respective family members described by 姐姐, 弟弟 and 妹妹 (below).

我的哥哥是二十三岁。(wǒ dí gē gē shì èr shí sān suì.) — My older brother is twenty-three years old.

姐姐 (jiě jie) — elder sister

我的姐姐为谷歌工作。(wǒ de jiě jie wèi gǔ gē gōng zuò.) — My older sister works for Google.

弟弟 (dì dì) — little brother

我的弟弟只是一个孩子。(wǒ de dì dì zhǐ shì yī gè hái zi.) — My little brother is only a kid.

妹妹 (mèi mei) — little sister

你的妹妹很小!(nǐ de mèi mei hěn xiǎo!) — Your little sister is so small!

配偶 (pèi ǒu) — partner or spouse

When describing your partner or someone else’s partner, use this term. It’s a little too formal to use when addressing your own spouse.

This term is used to refer to anyone’s partner or spouse, including those in same-sex or otherwise non-traditional couples.

那是他的配偶吗?(nà shì tā de pèi ǒu ma?) — Is that his spouse?

丈夫 (zhàng fū) — husband

You can call your own husband 丈夫 if you’d like, but this term is mostly used to describe a husband.

我丈夫的名字是约翰。(wǒ zhàng fū de míng zì shì yuē hàn.) — My husband’s name is John.

妻子 (qī zi) — wife

Like 丈夫, this term is best for describing a wife (yours or someone else’s).

我爱我的妻子。(wǒ ài wǒ de qī zi.) — I love my wife.

孩子 (hái zi) — children

Literally, “offspring.” You can use this term to describe children, or to call out to a group of children if you’re a teacher or babysitter.

我有三个孩子。(wǒ yǒu sān gè hái zi.) — I have three children.

女儿 (nǚ’ér) — daughter

This is ideal for describing or addressing one’s daughter, as are 儿子, 表妹, 表弟, 表姐 and 表哥 (below) for the respective family members they represent.

我女儿在学校。(wǒ nǚ ér zài xué xiào.) — My daughter is at school.

儿子 (ér zi) — son

她的儿子是我的朋友。(tā de ér zi shì wǒ de péng yǒu.) — Her son is a friend of mine.

表妹 (biǎo mèi) — younger female cousin

我找到了表妹!(wǒ zhǎo dào le biǎo mèi!) — I found little cousin!

表弟 (biǎo dì) — younger male cousin

我的表弟是一个麻烦制造者。(wǒ de biǎo dì shì yī gè má fan zhì zào zhě.) — My little cousin is a troublemaker.

表姐 (biǎo jiě) — older female cousin

表姐, 看看我的画!(biǎo jiě, kàn kàn wǒ de huà!) — Older cousin, look at my painting!

表哥 (biǎo gē) — older male cousin

我的表哥是一位作家。(wǒ de biǎo gē shì yī wèi zuò jiā.) — My older cousin is a writer.

祖父母 (zǔ fù mǔ) — the general term for grandparents

This term is best for speaking of grandparents, be they your own or someone else’s, but 爷爷, 姥姥, 祖父 and 祖母 (see below) should be used when addressing a grandparent.

她的祖父母是政治家。(tā de zǔ fù mǔ shì zhèng zhì jiā.) — Her grandparents are politicians.

爷爷 (yé yé) — mother’s father

爷爷跑得快。(yé yé pǎo dé kuài.) — Grandpa runs fast.

姥姥 (lǎo lao) — mother’s mother

姥姥,你在家吗?(lǎo lao, nǐ zài jiā ma?) — Grandma, are you home?

祖父 (zǔ fù) — father’s father

我的祖父吃。(wǒ de zǔ fù chī.) — My grandfather eats.

祖母 (zǔ mǔ) — father’s mother

我的祖母做饭。(wǒ de zǔ mǔ zuò fàn.) — My grandmother cooks.

舅父 (jiù fù) — mother’s brother or one’s uncle

This phrase along with 阿姨, 姑母 and 叔 (below) are great for addressing and talking about aunts or uncles.

我的舅父来自台湾。(wǒ de jiù fù lái zì tái wān.) — My uncles are from Taiwan.

阿姨 (yí) — mother’s sister or one’s aunt

我有三个阿姨。(wǒ yǒu sān gè ā yí.) — I have three aunts.

姑母 (gū mǔ) — father’s sister or one’s aunt

你的姑母会来参加婚礼吗?(nǐ de gū mǔ huì lái cān jiā hūn lǐ ma?) — Will your aunt come to the wedding?

(shū) — father’s brother or one’s uncle

我的叔叔很老。(wǒ de shū hěn lǎo.) — My uncle is old.


Memorizing the basic labels that describe people in a family group is something the beginner learner really needs to know.

Chinese family words really aren’t all that different from English family words, are they?

Good luck studying abroad and don’t forget to thank your 寄宿家庭 (jì sù jiā tíng — host family) for their support!

Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.

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