Unlock How to Say Family in Chinese & Cultural Insights

Family in Chinese

The Ultimate Guide to “Family” in Chinese: Essential Vocabulary for Every Learner

Remember that time you were trying to tell your Chinese friend about your awesome grandma, but all you could muster was a confused “…nainai?” 

Or maybe you were totally lost during a family dinner in Beijing, unsure who to call “auntie” and who to call “older sister.” Trust me, everyone learning Chinese has been there in one way or another – family terms in Chinese can feel like a whole different language!

However, mastering this vocabulary is not just about avoiding awkward moments – it’s your golden ticket to understanding Chinese culture and connecting with people on a deeper level. 

After all, family is the heart of Chinese society.

“To understand the Chinese family is to understand much of Chinese culture,” as they say, and that’s exactly what we’re focusing on today. By the end of this guide, you’ll be chatting about your family like a pro and impressing your Chinese friends with your newfound knowledge.

Let’s get into it.

What is the Chinese Word for Family?

The Chinese word for family is “家庭” (jiātíng). This word encompasses the entire family unit, including parents, children, grandparents, and even extended family members. It represents the strong bonds and deep-rooted values that are central to Chinese culture.

Chinese grandparents sitting in front of their younger family

Immediate Family in Chinese Terms and Chinese Family Words

Alright, let’s start with the basics when it comes to family in Chinese – your immediate family. These are the terms you’ll use most often, so it’s crucial to get them down pat.

  • Parents: This is easy peasy! Your dad is your 爸爸 (bàba), and your mom is your 妈妈 (māma). Simple enough, right?
  • Siblings: When it comes to siblings, things get a bit more nuanced. You see, Chinese distinguishes between older and younger siblings. Your older brother in Chinese is your 哥哥 (gēge), and your younger brother in Chinese is your 弟弟 (dìdi). Similarly, your older sister is your 姐姐 (jiějie), and your little sister in Mandarin is your 妹妹 (mèimei). If you’re an only child, don’t worry – you can still use these terms to refer to your friends’ siblings. It’s a way of showing respect and closeness.
  • Spouse and Children: Got a significant other? Your husband is your 丈夫 (zhàngfu) or 先生 (xiān sheng), 老公 (lǎogōng), and your wife is your 妻子 (qīzi) or 太太 (yài tai), 老婆 (lǎopó). If you have kids, your son is your 儿子 (érzi), and your daughter is your 女儿 (nǚ’ér).

An example of this?

Imagine you’re introducing your family to a Chinese friend. You could say: “这是我的爸爸妈妈, 这是我的哥哥, 这是我的妹妹.” (Zhè shì wǒ de bàba māma, zhè shì wǒ de gēge, zhè shì wǒ de mèimei, This is my dad and mom, this is my older brother, and this is my little sister in Mandarin.)

Pro Tip: Remember to use the appropriate title and Chinese family words before the name when addressing Chinese family members. For example, you would call your mom “妈妈” or “妈,” but you wouldn’t just say “妈” by itself. It’s like calling your mom “Mom” instead of just “Ma.” Get it?

Extended Family in Mandarin Chinese

All members of a Chinese family kneeling down and showing respect

Now you’ve got the immediate fam down, let’s branch out a bit. Chinese families often include a whole bunch of relatives, and the terms can get a little tricky. But don’t worry, we’ll break it down together.

  • Grandparents: Your father’s parents are your paternal grandparents. Your grandpa on your dad’s side is your 爷爷 (yéye), and your grandma on your dad’s side is your 奶奶 (nǎinai). Your mother’s parents are your maternal grandparents. Your grandpa on your mom’s side is your 姥爷 (lǎoye), and your grandma on your mom’s side is your 姥姥 (lǎolao).
  • Aunts and Uncles: Just like with grandparents, there are different terms for aunts and uncles depending on which side of the family they’re on. Your dad’s older brother in Chinese is your 伯伯 (bóbo), and your dad’s younger brother in Chinese is your 叔叔 (shūshu). Your dad’s sister is your 姑姑 (gūgu). Your mom’s brother is your 舅舅 (jiùjiu). and your mom’s sister is your 阿姨 (āyí).
  • Cousin in Chinese: Same as previous situation, Your father side cousins are your堂哥 (tánggē) or 堂弟 (tángdì) if they’re male, and your 堂姐 (tángjiě) or 堂妹 (tángmèi) if they’re female. Mom side cousins are your 表哥 (biǎogē) or 表弟 (biǎodì) if they’re male, and your 表姐 (biǎojiě) or 表妹 (biǎomèi) if they’re female. The terms change depending on whether they’re older or younger than you, just like with siblings.
  • Nieces and Nephews: Your brother’s or sister’s kids are your nieces and nephews. Your nephew is your 侄子 (zhízi), and your niece is your 侄女 (zhínǚ).
  • In-Laws: Married into a Chinese family? If you are a male, you call your father-in-law is 岳父 (yuèfù) , mother-in-law is 岳母 (yuèmǔ). If you are a female, you call your father-in-law is 公公 (gōnggong), mother-in-law is 婆婆 (pópo). Your brother-in-law is your 姐夫 (jiěfu) or 妹夫 (mèifu) if he’s your sister’s husband, and your 嫂子 (sǎozi) or 弟妹 (dìmèi) if she’s your brother’s wife.

Let’s say you’re telling your Chinese friend about your family reunion. You could say: “我的爷爷奶奶和姥姥姥爷都来了, 还有我的表哥表姐.” (Wǒ de yéyé nǎinai hé lǎolao lǎoyé dōu láile, hái yǒu wǒ de biǎogē biǎojiě, My paternal and maternal grandparents came, as did my cousins in Chinese.)

Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you’re unsure how to address someone. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask, “我应该怎么称呼您?” (Wǒ yīnggāi zěnme chēnghu nín, How should I address you?) Most people will be happy to help you out.

Addressing Family Members in Chinese

Honor and respect is a massive part of Chinese culture, so understanding how to address family and relatives is quite an important part of the process. Let’s break it down.

  • Titles Before Names: In Chinese, it’s customary to use a title aftert someone’s name, especially when addressing a friend’s Chinese family members. For example, you would call your friend’s mom Aunt Wang “王阿姨” (Wáng āyí) instead of just “阿姨.” This shows respect and acknowledges their position in the family.
  • Formal vs. Informal: Just like in English, there are formal and informal ways to address people in Chinese. When talking to your elders or people you don’t know well, it’s best to use formal titles. For example, you would call your grandfather “爷爷” (yéye) instead of the more informal “爷” (). However, when talking to your peers or close family members in Chinese, you can use informal titles.
  • When to Use Which: Knowing when to use formal or informal address can be a bit of a cultural minefield, but here’s a general rule of thumb: When in doubt, err on the side of formality. It’s better to be too polite than to accidentally offend someone. As you get to know people better, you’ll naturally start to pick up on the appropriate level of formality.

Imagine you’re meeting your girlfriend or boyfriend’s parents for the first time. 

Upon greeting, you would address his/her father as  “叔叔” (shūshu). You would address his/her mother as “阿姨” (āyí) for the same reason.

Pro Tip: Pay attention to how other people address each other. This will give you valuable clues about the appropriate level of formality to use in different situations. And do not directly call their Chinese name, it is rude in Chinese culture. 

Cultural Insights for Family in Mandarin

How Important Ancestors Are to Chinese People?

Okay, we’re doing really well. Now, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Family isn’t just about vocabulary – it’s deeply ingrained in Chinese culture.

Understanding the cultural context behind these terms will give you a whole new appreciation for the language.

  • Family as the Cornerstone: In Chinese culture, family is considered the basic unit of society. It’s not just about blood relations; it’s about a sense of belonging, shared values, and mutual support. This emphasis on family is reflected in the language, with a rich vocabulary dedicated to describing kinship ties.
  • Filial Piety and Respect for Elders: One of the core values in Chinese culture is filial piety, which emphasizes respect, obedience, and care for one’s parents and elders. This is evident in the way family members are addressed, with specific titles used to show deference. For example, you would never call your grandparents by their first names; you would always use the appropriate titles like “爷爷” (yéye) or “奶奶” (nǎinai).
  • Harmony and Collective Well-being: Chinese families often prioritize harmony and the well-being of the group over individual needs. This is reflected in the language, with phrases like “家和万事兴” (jiā hé wàn shì xīng), which means “If the family lives in harmony, all affairs will prosper.”

Let’s say you’re visiting a Chinese family for the first time. You can show your understanding of their culture by addressing the elders with respect, using formal titles, and expressing your appreciation for their hospitality. 

This will go a long way in building rapport and making a good impression.

Pro Tip: When interacting with Chinese families, be mindful of cultural norms and expectations. Avoid topics that might be considered sensitive, such as politics or personal finances. Instead, focus on building relationships and showing genuine interest in their lives.


There you have it – your ultimate guide to navigating the world of family in Chinese! 

We’ve covered everything from immediate family to distant relatives, how to address them respectfully, and even the cultural significance behind these terms. Remember, language learning is a journey, and every step you take brings you closer to fluency.

Ready to take your Mandarin skills to the next level? 

NewConcept Education offers Mandarin classes in Seattle that will help you master the language and connect with Chinese culture on a deeper level. 

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to unlock a world of possibilities. 

Sign up for a free course today and start your language adventure!

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