How To Talk About (And Address) Family Members In Chinese

  • Jasmine Chiam
    Written byJasmine Chiam
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How To Talk About (And Address) Family Members In Chinese

In Chinese culture, family holds a significant place. Knowing the right terms to address family members or introduce them to someone else can show your love and respect for your family.

Family relationships are considered precious and essential in Chinese culture, so it’s no wonder a lot of thought has gone into the different terms to used address various family members.

Plus, because family is highly regarded in Chinese culture, the subject of family often pops up in conversations.

Knowing family-associated vocabulary allows you to communicate better with native speakers on this topic.

In this guide, we’ll look at the right terms to use when addressing different family members.

I’ll also teach you some basic sentences to talk about family and simple ways to ask and respond to questions about family.

Let’s get into it.

Mandarin Chinese terms for addressing family members

There are many terms to address family members, which usually vary based on which side of the family they’re from, their age and their gender.

Let’s start with the Chinese terms for parents, siblings, spouses, and children before moving on to the terms for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

How to say “parents” in Mandarin

To say “parents” in Mandarin, the phrase you would use is 父母 (fùmǔ).

Both characters will appear again below, and you’ll notice the logic behind them.

The term 父母 is only used to speak about your parents, not to address them directly.

To say “father” in Chinese, you can use the following:

  • 父亲 (fùqīn): This is a more formal term typically used when speaking to other people about fathers.
  • 爸爸 (bàba): This term can be used to address your own father, whether you’re speaking directly to him or about him to someone else you’re close to. It is a more affectionate and casual term. Native speakers usually shorten this to just 爸 (bà).

You can use these phrases to say “mother” in Chinese:

  • 母亲 (mǔqīn): Similar to 父亲 (fù qīn), this phrase is the more formal term to use when talking about mothers.
  • 妈妈 (māma): 妈妈 is what most people would call their mothers or speak of their mother when in a conversation with close friends or relatives. You can shorten this to just 妈 (mā).

How to say “siblings” in Mandarin

兄弟姐妹 (xiōngdì jiěmèi) is the phrase to use when talking about two or more siblings in general.

You can be more specific as well. Here’s how to say “brother” in Chinese:

  • 哥哥 (gēge): Used to speak about or directly address an elder brother.
  • 弟弟 (dìdì): Used to speak about or directly address a younger brother.

Here are some ways to say “sister” in Chinese:

  • 姐姐 (jiě jie): Used to speak about or directly to an elder sister
  • 妹妹 (mèimei): Used to talk about or directly to a younger sister.

All the phrases above can be shortened to just 哥, 弟, 姐, or 妹 in casual and friendly conversations.

How to say “spouse” in Mandarin

When you’re talking to someone else about your spouse, here are the terms you can use:

  • 丈夫 (zhàngfū): This is a very formal way to speak of a husband (yours or someone else’s).
  • 老公 (lǎogōng): This is the more casual and friendly way to speak of your husband, similar to the English slang “hubby.”
  • 妻子 (qīzi): This is the more formal way to speak of a wife (yours or someone else’s).
  • 老婆 (lǎopó): You can use this to talk about your wife in more casual settings, similar to the English slang “wifey.”
  • 爱人 (àirén): 爱 (ài) translates to “love,” while 人 translates to “person.” Thus, this term refers to a spouse and can be used to talk about your husband or wife.

How to say “children” in Mandarin

孩子 (háizi) translates to “child,” and this can be used to talk about a son or a daughter.

The word for “son” in Mandarin Chinese is 儿子 (érzi). This can be used to describe or talk about your son or someone else’s.

The term for “daughter” in Mandarin Chinese is 女儿 (nǚ’ér). This is also used to describe or talk about your daughter or someone else’s.

You may notice that the Mandarin pinyin for 女 (nǚ) looks unique. Take note that how you pronounce “ü” is different from how you pronounce “u.” The two dots on top of the “u” make a significant difference!

The correct sound for “ü” is the “ee” sound in English, like in the English word “bee.” And as you pronounce the word “nǚ,” slowly round your lips. Don’t forget to implement the third tone as well.

How to say “grandparents” in Mandarin

祖父母 (zǔ fù mǔ) translates to “grandparents.” This is typically used more for speaking to someone else about your grandparents and not so much for addressing them.

But there are specific Mandarin terms to address them. This is where things may get a little tricky. For instance, the term used to address your grandfather on your dad’s side differs from that of your mom’s side.

Let’s explore each one!

Here’s how to say “grandfather” in Mandarin Chinese:

  • 祖父 (zǔfù): This is the more formal term you can use to describe your father’s father (paternal grandfather).
  • 爷爷 (yéye): This is the more casual way to describe or address your father’s father.
  • 外公 (wàigōng): This phrase can be used to describe or address your mother’s father (maternal grandfather).

Here are some phrases to say “grandmother” in Mandarin Chinese:

  • 祖母 (zǔmǔ): This is the more formal term to talk about your father’s mother (paternal grandmother).
  • 奶奶 (nǎinai): This is the more casual term to talk about or address your father’s mother.
  • 外婆 (wàipó): This phrase is used to describe or address your mother’s mother (maternal grandmother).
  • 姥姥 (lǎolao): This is the more casual term to address your mother’s mother.

How to talk about other family members in Mandarin Chinese

In this section, we’ll look at how you can address or talk about your aunties, uncles, and cousins using Mandarin Chinese.

This is where things can get confusing, as the terms used to address these family members may differ based on which side of the family they’re from and whether they’re older or younger than your parents.

First, we’ll learn how you can address your uncles and aunties. Let’s split these terms into two categories—starting with the terms to address relatives on your dad’s side of the family, followed by that for your mom’s side.

English phrase Chinese translation Pinyin
Uncle (Father’s older brother) 伯伯 bóbo
Uncle (Father’s younger brother) 叔叔 shūshu
Aunt (Father’s sister) 姑姑 gūgu
Uncle (Mother’s brother) 舅舅 jìujiu
Aunt (Mother’s sister) 阿姨 ā yí

Here’s a pretty interesting fact about Chinese culture; The younger generation would typically call an adult who is 10 to 20 years older 阿姨 (ā yí), which means “aunt,” or 叔叔, which means “uncle.”

This applies even if they are not actually related or part of the family, and it is one way to show respect to someone older.

Next, we’ll learn how to talk about your cousins from different sides of the family.

English phrase Chinese translation Pinyin
Older male cousin (Dad’s side) 堂哥 táng gē
Younger male cousin (Dad’s side) 堂弟 táng dì
Older female cousin (Dad’s side) 堂姐 táng jiě
Younger female cousin (Dad’s side) 堂妹 táng mèi
Older male cousin (Mom’s side) 表哥 biǎo gē
Younger male cousin (Mom’s side) 表弟 biǎo dì
Older female cousin (Mom’s side) 表姐 biǎo jiě
Younger female cousin (Mom’s side) 表妹 biǎo mèi

Not all these words are new; we’ve covered them above when learning the different phrases to address your siblings. The only difference is adding a 堂 in front of the term for a cousin on your dad’s side or a 表 for a cousin on your mom’s side.

Other family-related terms in Mandarin

Here are some other family-related terms that may be useful during conversations.

家庭 (jiātíng)

Translation: Family

You can use this term to address a room of family members.

Alternatively, this phrase is more commonly used to talk about your family as a whole when conversing with another person.

Here’s an example:

Listen to audio

我想有一个大家庭。

Wǒ xiǎng yǒu yīgè dà jiātíng
I wish to have a big family

家人 (jiā rén)

Translation: Family member/family

This is a general term used to describe any family member. You can also use it when talking to someone about their family member or someone else’s family member if you don’t know how they’re related.

For example:

Listen to audio

医生想见他的家人。

Yīshēng xiǎngjiàn tā de jiārén.
The doctor wants to see his family.

You can also use it to describe or talk about one or more family members without specifying a single one.

Here are some examples:

Listen to audio

我的家人要来看我。

Wǒ de jiārén yào lái kàn wǒ.
My family wants to come and visit me.
Listen to audio

我的家人喜欢吃火锅。

Wǒ de jiārén xǐhuān chī huǒguō.
My family loves to eat hotpot.

The difference between 家庭 (jiātíng) and 家人 (jiā rén)

You might have noticed that 家庭 (jiātíng) and 家人 (jiā rén) are very closely related. It may, at times, be confusing to tell one apart from the other.

Generally, 家庭 (jiātíng) is used when talking about a family as a whole indivisible unit (in a collective sense), while 家人 (jiā rén) is more often used when talking about one or more family members.

For example:

Listen to audio

我给我的家人礼物。

Wǒ gěi wǒ de jiārén lǐwù.
I give my family members presents.

The **incorrect **way to say this would be:

  • 我给我的家庭礼物。(Wǒ gěi wǒ de jiātíng lǐwù.)

That’s because your gift-giving is directed to family members in your family rather than to a whole family unit.

On the other hand, there are cases where you would use 家庭 instead of 家人. Here’s an example:

Listen to audio

许多家庭受到洪水的影响。

Xǔduō jiātíng shòudào hóngshuǐ de yǐngxiǎng.
Many families were affected by the flood.

The incorrect way to say this is:

  • 许多家人受到洪水的影响。(Xǔduō jiārén shòudào hóngshuǐ de yǐngxiǎng.)

In the example above, 家庭 is used to refer to the many collective units of families that were affected by the flood.

How to Introduce Family Members in Mandarin Chinese

There are three new terms you can learn to introduce your family members to someone else.

They are as follows:

  • 这是 (zhè shì): This is
  • 他是 (tā shì): He is
  • 她是 (tā shì): She is

他 and 她 are differentiated in writing but are pronounced the same.

If your mother happens to be standing next to you and you would like to introduce her to the person you’re speaking to, you can say 这是我妈妈 (zhè shì wǒ māmā). This means, “This is my mother.”

You can also use 他是 or 她是 as you would in English.

Here’s an example:

Listen to audio

他是我的哥哥。

Tā shì wǒ dí gēgē.
He is my older brother.

How To ask and respond to questions about family in Mandarin Chinese

If the topic of family is brought up, you can ask the following simple questions to get to know the other party and their family a little better.

An example of a response is also included as a guide on how you can reply to these questions.

Listen to audio

你家有几口人?

Nǐ jiā yǒu jǐ kǒu rén?
How many people are in your family?
Listen to audio

我家有四口人。

Wǒjiā yǒu sì kǒu rén.
There are four members in my family.

You’d need a basic understanding of how to count in Mandarin Chinese for this response.

Listen to audio

你有几个兄弟姐妹?

Nǐ yǒu jǐ gè xiōngdì jiěmèi?
How many siblings do you have?
Listen to audio

两个。一个哥哥和一个妹妹。

Liǎng gè. Yīgè gēgē hé yīgè mèimei.
Two siblings. An older brother and a younger sister.
Listen to audio

你和你的父母住在一起吗?

Nǐ hé nǐ de fùmǔ zhù zài yīqǐ ma?
Do you live with your parents?
Listen to audio

我的父母住在另一个城市。但是我每个月都会去看他们。

Wǒ de fùmǔ zhù zài lìng yīgè chéngshì. Dànshì wǒ měi gè yuè dūhuì qù kàn tāmen.
My parents live in another city. But I'll visit them every month.

Learning the right terms to address family members in Chinese may take time

Practise these words and phrases.

Family members (especially the older generation) will appreciate it when you use the right terms to greet or address them.

This can be a great display of respect and care.


Do you know of any other interesting ways to talk about family using Mandarin Chinese?

If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
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