How long do you think you can last in a conversation without mentioning your family?
It doesn’t sound that difficult. Most adults don’t feel compelled to speak at length about our mommies and daddies.
Think about it, though. How often in a conversation do you say something like, “Sorry, my dad keeps texting me.”
“Oh, you like my sweater? Thanks! My husband gave it to me for Christmas.”
“I want to attend that college because my stepbrother went there and loved it.”
The list of ways our family members come up in conversation is endless. Whether you visit or live in a francophone country, work for a French company or spend time with French folks on occasion, it’s important to know how to talk about your family.
When Do You Talk About Your Family?
Maybe you dream of going on dates while in a francophone country. If your French skills are limited, how would you meet people?
Well, there’s good news for all you single folks out there. Other countries have dating websites and apps, just like we do in America! In France, create a basic profile on eDarling or Meetic Affinity for free. Using these websites isn’t just a good way to find love. Doing so is also helpful for meeting people and practicing your French! Especially these ooey-gooey, lovey-dovey phrases.
When you go out with someone you’re meeting for the first time, as is usually the case with online dating, there are several topics you’re likely to cover on the first date. These subjects include things like hobbies, work, education, childhood and, of course, family.
If you are able to express your family situation, which can extend into your talking about your childhood, your date will gain a better understanding of who you are.
Making new friends
As with the dating scene, making new friends implies discussing those same basic topics during the “getting to know you” stage.
Yes, talking about your family does help people get to know the basics about your life. But telling stories about your family can also help them gain a deeper insight into who you are, as well as why you are the way you are.
For example, if you tell them, “Ma mère est morte quand j’étais jeune” (“My mother died when I was young”) and “Mon père s’est remarié cinq ans plus tard” (“My dad remarried five years later”), your acquaintance will have a point of reference when you talk about your mom versus your stepmom.
Hearing this information also might help them understand some deeper aspects of your personality. Through sharing family background, mere acquaintances can grow closer and become friends.
Attending work/social events
At work gatherings and social parties, the art of small talk is a valuable skill! Family is one of the most common subjects people bring up at these events.
Impress your boss and coworkers by recounting stories about your sister’s wedding. Or amuse them by sharing childhood memories of older cousins who used to play pranks on you.
At these events, especially work-related ones, you might even have family members with you. It’s important to know how to introduce them to the other guests.
The Ultimate Guide to Talking About Your Family in French
Before we get into situations and phrases, let’s start with the basics. What is the French translation for terms related to family members?
1. Your immediate family
- Les parents (parents, or in a more generic sense, relatives of any kind)
- La mère (mother)
- Le père (father)
- Le frère (brother)
- La sœur (sister)
- Les frères et sœurs (siblings)
That’s right, there’s no word for “siblings.” You just have to say “brothers and sisters.”
- Les grands-parents (grandparents)
- La grand-mère (grandmother)
- Le grand-père (grandfather)
- La fille (daughter)
- Le fils (son)
- L’époux/l’épouse (spouse)
- Le mari (husband)
- La femme (wife)
- La belle-mère (mother-in-law)
The “in-laws” literally translate to “beautiful mother,” “handsome father,” etc. This translation really removes the negative stigma typically associated with in-laws!
- Le beau-père (father-in-law)
- Le beau-frère (brother-in-law)
- La belle-sœur (sister-in-law)
- La belle-fille (daughter-in-law)
- Le beau-fils (son-in-law)
- La belle-mère (stepmother)
You’ll notice that the “in-laws” and “steps” both translate to the same word. Confusing, isn’t it?
- Le beau-père (stepfather)
- Le beau-frère (stepbrother)
- La belle-sœur (stepsister)
- La belle-fille (stepdaughter)
- Le beau-fils (stepson)
- Le demi-frère (half-brother)
- La demi-sœur (half-sister)
2. Your extended family
- Les cousins/les cousines (male or mixture of male and female cousins/female cousins)
- L’oncle (uncle)
- La tante (aunt)
- Le neveu (nephew)
- La nièce (niece)
I bet you didn’t even realize how many family members existed until you saw that list. But don’t be overwhelmed! There are plenty of free online learning tools where you can practice memorizing all this vocabulary. Check out these simple exercises on The French Experiment. Or use FluentU’s extensive collection of videos to help you remember this family vocabulary.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the French language and culture over time. You’ll learn French as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews and web series, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive subtitles.
You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used.
For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:
Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with FluentU's adaptive quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning and play the mini-games found in the dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."
As you study, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a 100% personalized experience.
It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play stores.
Introducing Your Family to Others
These are the phrases you would whip out at those work and social events, when having people over to your family’s home, or if you run into someone you know on the street while with a family member.
1. Formal introductions
You would use these phrases when introducing family members at an event, or to elders and people you respect.
- Je vous présente … (I present to you …)
Remember to use vous to talk to people who are older or in a position of authority. You might use this phrase when you introduce a family member to your boss or to a friend’s parent.
Monsieur, je vous présente mon mari, Daniel. (Sir, I present to you my husband, Daniel.)
Bonjour, Madame Thierry! Je vous présente ma mère. (Hello, Mrs. Thierry! I present to you my mother.)
- Je te présente … (I present to you …)
Use the tu form when speaking to a friend, an equal or someone younger than yourself. In this case, you are introducing a family member to someone who fits this profile, but while using a more formal structure:
Salut, Brigitte! Je te présente mon beau-frère, Charles. Charles, Brigitte est ma camarade de classe. (Hi, Brigitte! I present to you my brother, Charles. Charles, Brigitte is my classmate.)
- Il/Elle s’appelle … (His/her name is …)
Je te présente mon oncle. Il s’appelle Nico. (I present to you my uncle. His name is Nico.)
Bonjour, madame. Je vous présente ma tante. Elle s’appelle Esther. (Hello, ma’am. I present to you my aunt. Her name is Esther.)
2. Informal introductions
You would use these informal introductions with your close pals. Sometimes people use these terms as quick introductions if they are in a hurry or distracted. Let’s say your mom randomly walks into the room while you guys are playing video games. You don’t have time for formalities, you’ve got dragons to kill!
- C’est … (This is …)
C’est is a casual way to say, “This is.”
Salut! C’est mon cousin. (Hi! This is my cousin.)
- Voilà … (Here is …)
This would be used in a situation when you are surprised to see someone. For example, if you weren’t expecting a family member to walk in at that moment, you use voilà as a quick announcement of their arrival.
Oh, voilà ma femme! (Oh, here is my wife!)
Talking About Your Family to Others
It’s common to ask people how old someone is. Here are some of the most common phrases you’ll use to talk about a family member’s age.
- Il/elle a … ans. (He/she is … years old.)
Mon beau-père a 49 ans. (My stepfather is 49 years old.)
Ma fille a sept ans. (My daughter is seven years old.)
- Le grand frère/la grande sœur(older brother/older sister)
Mon grand frère va à l’université. (My older brother goes to college.)
Ma grande sœur n’aime pas aller au cinéma. (My older sister doesn’t like to go to the movies.)
- Le petit frère/la petite sœur (younger brother/younger sister)
J’ai deux grands frères et une petite sœur. Marie est ma petite sœur. (I have two older brothers and one younger sister. Marie is my younger sister.)
- Plus âgé(e) que … (older than)
Ma mère est plus âgée que mon père. (My mom is older than my dad.)
- Plus jeune que … (younger than)
Frank est mon frère. Il est plus jeune que moi. (Frank is my brother. He is younger than me.)
Time out! Just checking in. How are you feeling with all these new vocabulary and phrases? If you want help keeping track of all these French terms, create your own set of flashcards on Quizlet.
You might want to explain where your family is from, or what your heritage is. Below are some common nationalities you’re likely to use in describing your background.
- Ma famille est … (My family is …)
Keep in mind, the above list contains the feminine forms of these nationalities, which include /e/ at the end of each word. This conjugation occurs because la famille is a feminine noun.
- … venir de … (come from/are from)
Mes grands-parents viennent de Corée. (My grandparents are from Korea.)
- Moitié (half)
Ma mère vient de France et mon père vient d’Irlande. Je suis moitié français(e), moitié irlandais(e). (My mom is from France, and my dad is from Ireland. I’m half French, half Irish.)
- Un quart (one-quarter)
Ma belle-mère a des traits foncés parce qu’elle est un quart italienne. (My stepmom has dark features because she is one-quarter Italian.)
- Un huitième (one-eighth)
Je ne connais pas mon héritage en détail, mais ma mère me dit que je suis un huitième allemand(e). (I don’t know my heritage in detail, but my mom tells me I am one-eighth German.)
- … avoir grandi à … (… grew up in …)
Ma famille est écossaise, mais mes frères et sœurs et moi avons grandi à New York. (My family is Scottish, but my siblings and I grew up in New York City.)
3. Comparing family members
You know what they say—the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! Family members are similar in many ways, from appearances, to personalities, to interests. Sometimes, however, family members are surprisingly different from one another. It’s helpful to learn to describe family members in relation to yourself to give people a good picture of your family.
These are basic sentence structures. If you want to learn more about extensive ways to describe yourself and others, check out this blog post.
- Les deux/tous les deux avoir/être (both have/are)
Tous les deux translates to “both.” If you want to say two people share a physical trait, you say tous les deux, then conjugate the verb avoir (to have). If you want to say two folks share a personality trait, conjugate the verb être (to be).
J’ai les yeux verts, mais mes deux sœurs ont les yeux bleus. (I have green eyes, but both my sisters have blue eyes.)
Mon frère et moi sont blonds tous les deux. (My brother and I are both blond.)
- Comme (like)
J’ai les yeux bleus, comme ma grand-mère. (I have blue eyes, like my grandmother.)
- J’ai appris à … de … (I learned how to … from …)
J’ai appris à jouer au basketball de mon père. (I learned how to play basketball from my dad.)
When you talk about your family, especially your parents, you can expect someone to ask what they do for a living. Here is a list of some of the most common vocations that might come up in conversation.
- Un/une prof (teacher)
- Un avocat/une avocate (lawyer)
- Un médecin (doctor)
- Un infirmier/une infirmière (nurse)
- Un/une architecte (architect)
- Un/une artiste (artist)
- Un chanteur/une chanteuse (singer)
- Un acteur/une actrice (actor)
- Un musicien/une musicienne (musician)
- Un mécanicien/une mécanicienne (mechanic)
- Un pasteur (pastor)
- Mère au foyer (stay-at-home mom)
- Père au foyer (stay-at-home dad)
To say your family member is one of these professions, conjugate the verb être (to be), followed by the profession, but leave out the article. For example:
Je suis musicien, comme mon père. (I am a musician, like my dad.)
Tu es acteur? Tu aimerais peut-être parler à mon frère. Il est acteur aussi! (You are an actor? You might want to talk to my brother. He’s an actor, too!)
Mon oncle est médecin. (My uncle is a doctor.)
Ma grand-mère est architecte. (My grandmother is an architect.)
Nous sommes tous chanteurs. (We are all singers.)
Mes nièces sont profs, toutes les deux. (My nieces are both teachers.)
If you need help practicing all these professions and talking about them, check out French in Action’s video lessons. This website has four videos about occupations. If you like those videos, watching the “Kinship” and “Describing Others” videos will also help you learn how to describe your family.
5. Marital status
Talking about marriage isn’t so cut and dry! Is someone single or married? Divorced? Remarried? With all these options, there are several terms you might need to whip out when describing marital status.
- Être marié (to be married)
Mes grands-parents ont été mariés pendant 50 ans. (My grandparents were married for 50 years.)
Oui je suis mariée. David est mon mari. (Yes, I am married. David is my husband.)
- Divorcé (divorced)
Ma tante et mon oncle sont divorcés. (My aunt and uncle are divorced.)
- Remarié (remarried)
Mon père s’est remarié avec ma belle-mère quand j’avais dix ans. (My dad remarried my stepmom when I was ten.)
- Célibataire (single)
Mes parents sont inquiets parce que ma grande sœur vient d’avoir 40 ans et est toujours célibataire. (My parents are worried because my older sister just turned 40 and is still single.)
6. Health status
As much as I hate to say it, death is an important topic when speaking of one’s family. It’s inevitable, so talking about it is fairly inevitable, too.
- Mourir (die)
Mon oncle est mort quand j’étais jeune. (My uncle died when I was young.)
Pensez-vous que Grand-père va mourir? (Do you think Grandpa is going to die?)
- Décéder (pass away)
Nous nous inquiétons que mon oncle va décéder. (We are worried that my uncle is going to pass away.)
Ma grand-mère est décédée l’année dernière. (My grandmother passed away last year.)
- Être malade (to be ill)
Mon neveu est malade, et son état est très fragile. (My nephew is ill, and his condition is very fragile.)
Of course, you can talk in-depth about your family for hours.
But hopefully these basics will get you started!
This way, when a date or coworker asks you about your family, you won’t have to go hide out in the bathroom to avoid the conversation.
Laura Grace Tarpley is a writer based in Athens, Georgia. She has spent the past four years living in and exploring France, New Zealand and China. She runs the blog Let’s Go Tarpley!, where she writes city guides and budget travel tips.
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