The Beginner’s Guide to Talking About Family in English

Talking about yourself often leads people to start asking about your family.

Just in case that happens, it’s a good idea to have some words and phrases ready.

Here are some general vocabulary terms and phrases in English you’ll need to tell everyone about your family!


How to Talk Effortlessly About Your Family in English

People generally begin a conversation about family with simple phrases like these:

Do you have any family around here?

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:

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There are six people in my family—me, my parents, brother and two sisters and we live in…

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.

Immediate family—talking about those closest to you

Here are some more questions people usually ask:

How big is your family?

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Do you have any brothers or sisters?

When people ask these questions, they usually want to know about your immediate family.  This means the family closest to you and who may or may not live with you. 

parents father and mother wife female partner through marriage
siblings brothers and sisters stepfather your mother's new husband if she remarries
children sons and daughters stepmother your father's new wife if he remarries
spouse partner through marriage (any gender) stepbrother son of your parent's new spouse;
your brother through marriage
husband male partner through marriage stepsister daughter of your parent's new spouse;
your sister through marriage

Extended family—discussing other family members related by blood

People might also ask you questions like these:

Do you live with your grandparents?

How often do you see your cousins?

Usually they ask this when they’re interested in finding out about your extended family.  Your extended family includes relatives like your grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.

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grandparents grandfather and grandmother aunt your parent's sister
maternal grandparents your mother's parents cousin your uncle or aunt's child (any gender)
paternal grandparents your father's parents nephew male child of your sibling
grandchildren grandsons and granddaughters

niece female child of your sibling
uncle your parent's brother

Family by marriage—discussing family related to your spouse

When you marry, your family grows bigger. A question you might hear is:

Does your spouse come from a big family?

After marriage, you now have a new set of relatives from your spouse’s side of the family called your in-laws.  The conversation might not go this way, but if it does, you’ll be ready!

father-in-law your spouse's father sister-in-law your spouse's sister
mother-in-law your spouse's mother nephew son of brother- and sister-in-law
brother-in-law your spouse's brother niece daughter of your brother- and sister-in-law

All right, let’s move on to some useful expressions you can use to talk about your family relationships.

12 Expressions to Describe Your Family

To look like

To look like means to resemble someone physically or to be similar in appearance to someone.

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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.

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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 our dad—like father, like son.

Chip off the old block

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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 this, you could talk about your shared interests:

What do you and your family like to do?

For example, you could answer:

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, this would mean you have the same name as your grandmother:

I was named after my 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 this, it means you agree on many things and have a good relationship:

I get along very well with my younger sister.

The opposite would be this, which means the relationship between you and your cousin isn’t very good:

I don’t get along with my cousin.

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 can also 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 this, you’re saying that you enjoy being with your mother and sister, get along very well and have a strong relationship:

I’m very close to my mother and sister.

To look up to

To look up to means to respect and admire someone else.

If you say this, it means you respect and admire the things your brother says and does:

I’ve always looked up to my older brother.

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!

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 movies. 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.

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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.

The more you practice, the more you can talk freely about your 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 these words and expressions!

And One More Thing...

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