Polish Language Blog

Who’s Who in the Family Posted by on May 22, 2009 in Grammar, Vocabulary

Today’s post is about something that even I have problems with. Brother’s wife wife’s brother and sister’s husband and husband’s sister and sister’s daughter’s best friend’s neighbor’s son. Or something like that.

Either I’m monumentally stupid, or it’s really easy in English. Just stick “in-law” at the end of anything you’re not quite sure of (when talking about the “other” side of the family) and voila, your work there is done. So, whether you’re talking about your wife’s sister or your brother’s wife, you simply say “my sister in-law”, right?

Well, it’s not quite so easy in Polish (why would it, it’s Polish after all!) and all these people have their own individual names.
So, to be sure I get it right (because I hardly ever get it right) I consulted a book and my aunt. And while sometimes even Polish dictionaries can’t agree on what is correct, I know for a fact that my aunt is never wrong.

OK, so here’s the list (according to the book and my aunt):

  • brother’s wife – żona brata – bratowa
  • sister’s husband – mąż siostry – szwagier
  • wife’s brother – brat żony – szwagier
  • wife’s sister – siostra żony – szwagierka
  • husband’s sister – siostra męża – szwagierka

And there’s more:

  • sister’s daughter – córka siostry – siostrzenica
  • brother’s daughter – córka brata – bratanica
  • sister’s son – syn siostry – siostrzeniec
  • brother’s son – syn brata – bratanek

And now for the fun part, because we all love our in-laws, right?

  • daughter’s husband – mąż córki – zięć
  • son’s wife – żona syna – synowa


  • wife’s (or husband’s) father – ojciec żony (lub męża) – teść
  • wife’s (or husband’s) mother – matka żony (lub męża) – teściowa

When it comes to people like mother’s brother or father’s brother, back in the olden days (like about 20 years ago) they were called “wuj” and “stryj” respectively. But now, they’re just called “wuj”, or diminutively “wujek”, regardless of whose brothers they are.

And how for example would my father refer to my husband’s father in Polish? I have no idea. My dad has no idea either. He just said “father of my son-in-law” (ojciec mojego zięcia). Hey, works for me!

PS. And just to see if you remember your noun cases, can you tell which one we’ve been using today to describe all these people?

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  1. Mchl:

    I was taught that ‘stryj’ was a brother of my grand-parent (and ‘stryjenka’ would be their sister). More confusion… 😉

  2. Agnieszka:

    There is also an old word for mother of husband, but nobody use it anymore. She was called “świekra”. And similary for husband’s father there was a word “świekr” or “świekier”. Now they all are “teściowie”…

  3. russ:

    It seems definitely easier in English. I’ve had lots of Poles to whom I was teaching English who knew the English words well but couldn’t remember all of the Polish ones for niece and nephew and in-laws.

  4. Anna:

    Ouch! Agnieszka, yes I know, I even managed to dig up a word for that “father of my son-in-law” bit – it’s “swak” 🙂

    Mchl, these days everybody says “wujek” and “ciocia” regardless of whose grandpa’s brother’s sister’s whatnot they are. 🙂

    Russ, you’re absolutely right! And then there are “brat cioteczny, siostra cioteczna” etc… To me, they’re all cousins. 🙂

  5. Peter:

    Szwagier is used a lot more loosely amongst many people. Some would include very (mutually, in regards to husband and wife) close a szwagier despite not sharing an blood or relatives.

  6. Kuba:

    Just found your site. Enjoy seeing Polish words.
    Is there a place to start or just jump in where ever it seems correct?