Chinese Language Blog

Chinese Family Tree Posted by on Jan 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

Chinese characters for "family."

Family is important in all cultures around the world. After all, where would we be without our family? When learning a new language, this topic always comes up. Of course, the many words used to describe relationships in a family can be confusing. In order to help you discuss your family in Chinese, I’m going to introduce some useful vocabulary. First of all, you can use one Chinese character to mean “family” (家 – jiā). This character can also mean “home,” so to avoid confusion, you can add the character for “people” (人 – rén) to show that you’re talking about the people in your family (家人 – jiā rén). Or, if you prefer, you can use yet another word for “family” (家庭 – jiā tíng). Whichever word you use, sooner or later you’ll need to introduce the people in your family.

My Family Members (我的家人 – wǒ de jiā rén)

Let’s start out with your immediate family – the people who brought you into this world and the people you grew up in the same house with:

  • parents (父母 – fù mǔ)

  • father (父亲 – fù qīn)

  • dad (爸爸 – bà ba)

  • mother (母亲 – mǔ qin)

  • mom (妈妈 – mā ma)

  • siblings (兄弟姐妹 – xiōng dì jiě mèi)

  • older brother (哥哥 – gē ge)

  • younger brother (弟弟 – dì dì)

  • older sister (姐姐 – jiě jie)

  • younger sister (妹妹 – mèi mei)

How about your extended family? You know, those people you only see at holidays or family reunions. In English, we can just say “grandma” and “grandpa” for both side of the family. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy in Chinese:

  • grandparents (祖父母 – zǔ fù mǔ)

  • paternal grandpa (爷爷 – yé ye; 祖父 – zǔ fù)

  • paternal grandma (奶奶 – nǎi nai; 祖母 – zǔ mǔ)

  • maternal grandpa (外公 – wài gōng; 老爷 – lǎo ye)

  • maternal grandma (外婆 – wài pó; 姥姥 – lǎo lao)

If you think that’s complicated, just wait… In English, we can use the word “uncle” to describe so many people – our mother’s or father’s brother, or the husband of our mother’s our father’s sister. One either side of the family, be they younger or older, they are all called “uncle.” In Chinese, there are different words for every relationship:

  • father’s older brother (伯伯 – bó bo)

  • father’s younger brother (叔叔 – shū shu)

  • father’s sister’s husband (姑父 – gū fu)

  • mother’s brother (舅舅 – jiù jiu)

  • mother’s sister’s husband (姨父 – yí fu)

Thankfully, there is one word that can sort of universally mean “uncle” (叔叔 – shū shu). It’s used for actual family members, and can also be used when talking to an older man who is not in your family, but mostly for children. For example, many Chinese kids will often call me “叔叔”, despite the fact that we’re obviously not related whatsoever. Well, how about the ladies in the family? One all-encompassing word can basically mean “auntie” (阿姨 – Ā yí), but there are plenty of other words to learn:

  • father’s sister (姑姑 – gū gu)

  • father’s older brother’s wife (伯母 – bó mǔ)

  • father’s younger brother’s wife (婶婶 – shěn shen)

  • mother’s sister (姨妈 – yí mā)

  • mother’s brother’s wife (舅妈 – jiù ma)

And you thought English had a lot of names for family relationships! So what happens when your uncles and aunts have children? As you’ve probably guessed by now, there are a bunch of Chinese words that can be used. The word changes depending on whether your cousin is a boy or girl, and whether they are younger or older. You’ll see some familiar characters that you’ve already learned:

  • younger girl cousin (表妹 – biǎo mèi)

  • older girl cousin (表姐 – biǎo jiě)

  • younger boy cousin (表弟 – biǎo dì)

  • older boy cousin (表哥 – biǎo gē)

Eventually, most people will start a family of their own. You know what that means, don’t you? Time to learn even more vocabulary!

  • spouse (配偶 – pèi ǒu; 爱人 – Ài rén)

  • husband (丈夫 – zhàng fū)

  • wife (妻子 – qī zi; 太太 – tài tai)

  • children (孩子 – hái zi)

  • son (儿子 – Ér zi)

  • daughter (女儿 – nǚ’ér)

Now that you’re equipped with a bunch of new vocabulary, try to introduce your family in Chinese. Even better yet, write out your family tree, and include the Chinese words for the various relationships. To help you out a bit, here’s an article I wrote a while back about my family in Chinese. Of course, you can always learn a new Chinese word every day with us!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. terence:

    I like to know the chinese greetings. I’m married & hv a son & a daughter. My elder sister son who is my nephew is married and has a son. So I am consider from maternal side known as great grand uncle now. So how should my nephew’s son address my son and my daughter in chinese?

  2. Madison:

    Thanks for that! But can you put the actual tree? That would help a lot!

  3. Tse-en:

    You forgot the relationships between the siblings’ families (e.g. sister/brother-in-laws, nephews, nieces)!

  4. KH:

    This is a great resource in navigating the complex extended family lingo. How should I address my mother’s cousin?

  5. Chan Kong Loon:

    Chinese relationship very complicated. Father’s side considered closer than mother’s side

  6. Your mom:

    Father’s elder brother’s son, older than you: 堂哥
    Father’s elder brother’s daughter, older than you: 堂妹

  7. Bamutaze Anthony:

    Thanks a lot I am learning Chinese

  8. Mdee:

    Thank you,its nice and understandable especially for us non-Chinese

  9. Samuel:

    Very good post!


    8/10… because you have not accounted for both maternal and paternal cousins and positioning within their generation.

    As China has one of the longest histories and cultures of any modern day country, some of the written language still has elements of sexism but simultaneously is clear and concise to which exact family member you are referring to.

    1. There are 4 more cousins on the paternal side (堂哥/姐、堂弟/妹)/(father’s brothers’s son/daughter that is older than you、father’s brother’s son/daughter that is younger than you)

    2. Historically, due to Chinese having large families, it was very common for your position in your generation to dictate your “title” within the family, even within the blood brother sense!

    3. There are actually more differentiation’s for extended family (ie 表舅父 (maternal uncle once removed) and 姨婆 (maternal grandmother’s sister)

    Just a reference to the Romace of the Three Kingdoms, the 3 Brothers, Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, this is how one would refer to the other:

    Liu Bei to Guan Yu: Er Di 二弟 2nd Little Brother
    Liu Bei to Zhang Feo: San Di 三弟 3rd Little Brother

    Guan Yu to Liu Bei: Da Ge 大哥 Eldest brother
    Guan Yu to Zhang Fei: San Di 三弟 3rd Little Brother

    Zhang Fei to Liu Bei: Da Ge 大哥 Eldest brother
    Zhang Fei to Guan Yu: Er Ge 二哥3rd Little brother

    Of course, the youngest sibling could just be called 小弟/妹 youngest brother/sister as well.

    Chinese is a difficult language to learn, but once you do, everything is very clear and concise…

  10. Alana:

    Hi. This was quite thankful.
    i wanted to ask, how do you call mother’s older sister and mother’s younger brother in Chinese?

  11. Malkeet:

    In chinese language what a person can say to his/her younger brother’s wife?

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