Family Relationships in English – Explained in Simple Way

The names of family relationships in this post have been presented in an easy-to-understand way, categorized under key members of a family (father, mother, brother, sister, etc.). These relationship words will help improve your conversational vocabulary.

Note: the relationships themselves have been highlighted in bold and comments are in square brackets.

Relations on the mother side of family tree

First off, a variant of mother herself. When a man remarries, his new wife is the stepmother of any children from his previous marriage. Here are the relationships on the mother side of family tree:

1. Mother’s brother or mother’s male cousin: Uncle

Mother’s brother’s wife or mother’s cousin’s wife: Aunt

2. Mother’s sister or mother’s female cousin: Aunt

Mother’s sister’s husband or mother’s cousin’s husband: Uncle

[Name of the relationship stays uncle or aunt whether mother’s brother or sister is younger or older.]

Relations two generations older to you:

3. Mother’s father: Maternal grandfather

4. Mother’s mother: Maternal grandmother

Relations three generations older to you:

5. Mother of your grandparent: Great grandmother

6. Father of your grandparent: Great grandfather

[Mother of maternal grandfather as well as maternal grandmother is called great grandmother. Same goes for great grandfather.]

Relations on the father side of family tree

First off, a variant of father himself. When a woman remarries, her new husband is the stepfather of any children from her previous marriage. Here are the relationships on the father side of family tree:

1. Father’s brother or father’s male cousin: Uncle

Father’s brother’s wife or father’s cousin’s wife: Aunt

2. Father’s sister or father’s female cousin: Aunt

Father’s sister’s husband or father’s cousin’s husband: Uncle

[Name of the relationship stays uncle or aunt whether father’s brother or sister is younger or older.]

Relations two generations older to you:

3. Father’s father: Paternal grandfather

4. Father’s mother: Paternal grandmother

Relations three generations older to you:

5. Mother of your grandparent: Great grandmother

6. Father of your grandparent: Great grandfather

If you noticed, many of the relationships in English are quite straightforward. Siblings or cousins of your parents are called uncle or aunt (their spouses too go by the same name). This is so unlike relationships in many other languages.

Your immediate family

1. Wife/ Husband (Spouse)

2. Male child: Son or step-son (a son of one’s husband or wife from a previous marriage)

3. Female child: Daughter or step-daughter (a daughter of one’s husband or wife from a previous marriage)

4. Son’s wife: Daughter-in-law

5. Daughter’s husband: Son-in-law

6. Son’s or daughter’s son: Grandson

7. Son’s or daughter’s daughter: Granddaughter

Relations in the family of wife

1. Wife’s father: Father-in-law

2. Wife’s mother: Mother-in-law

3. Wife’s brother: Brother-in-law

4. Wife’s sister: Sister-in-law

[Any relationship with ‘in-law’ in the end indicates that the relationship is by marriage and not by blood.]

Relations in the family of husband

1. Husband’s father: Father-in-law

2. Husband’s mother: Mother-in-law

3. Husband’s brother: Brother-in-law

4. Husband’s sister: Sister-in-law

Relations in the family of brother

The two variants of this (brother) relationship are:

  • Half-brother: You’re my half-brother if we’ve one parent in common, but not both.
  • Stepbrother: You’re my stepbrother if we’ve no parents in common, but one of our parents have married each other.

Here are the relationships in the family of your brother:

1. Brother’s wife: Sister-in-law [Name of the relationship stays the same whether the brother is younger or older.]

2. Brother’s daughter: Niece

3. Brother’s son: Nephew

Relations in the family of sister

The two variants of this (sister) relationship are:

  • Half-sister: You’re my half-sister if we’ve one parent in common, but not both.
  • Stepsister: You’re my stepsister if we’ve no parents in common, but one of our parents have married each other.

Here are the relationships in the family of your sister:

1. Sister’s husband: Brother-in-law [Name of the relationship stays the same whether the sister is younger or older.]

2. Sister’s daughter: Niece

3. Sister’s son: Nephew

If you noticed, brother-in-law is used for brother of your spouse as well as for husband of your sister. Similarly, sister-in-law is used for sister of your spouse as well as wife of your brother. Compared to many languages, English has fewer words representing wider range of relationships.

The case of cousins

Family tree explaining cousins

Note: Feel free to use the above image, using the link (url) of this post for reference/attribution.

In the family tree above, X and Y are married and have children A0 and B0. A1 and B1 are their grandchildren. A2 and B2 are their great-grandchildren. And so on.

In this family, A0 and B0 are siblings (they share parents). A1 and B1 are first cousins (don’t have same parents, but share a grandparent). A2 and B2 are second cousins (don’t have same grandparents, but share a great-grandparent). A3 and B3 are third cousins (don’t have same great-grandparents, but share a great-great-grandparent). And so on.

First cousins, in simpler words, are children of your aunt or uncle.

Within few generations, the family tree gets too cumbersome to comprehend at a glance. Here is a proof: Barrack Obama, the former President of the United States, and Dick Cheney, the former Vice President, are cousins.

Eighth cousins!

Obama and Brad Pitt are ninth cousins.

And it gets weirder.

Obama and Bush, the two former Presidents representing opposite poles in the political spectrum, are tenth cousins.

19 Comments

  1. Joseph Stafford

    What is my sister’s daughter’s husband to me

    • Chuck Helms

      Perhaps, nephew-in-law?

  2. This isn’t actually as accurate as it could be… Some of the terms mentioned were used interchangeably in the past, so that finding someone listed as, say, “brother-in-law” doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the brother of your spouse, because it could also mean he’s your stepbrother. You should note that.

    Also, “nibling” and “sibling” are gender-neutral variants of “niece” & “nephew” or “sister” & “brother”, to apply to non-binary relations…

  3. Erin Szastak

    What Is my brother to my mother n law

    • Aimee Glenister

      Depends on how well they get along. “Son-in-law” if they’re besties, “Son-/daughter-in-law’s brother” if they barely know each other.

  4. What is my grandmother brother daughter to me ?

    • Aimee Glenister

      Your grandmother’s brother is your great-uncle. His daughter is your first cousin once removed. “Once/Twice/Thrice Removed” indicates a separation of one, two, or three generations, whether older or younger. Her child would be your second cousin, because you and your second cousin are in the same generation, but only share your great-grandparent(s).
      Really I just call my mother’s first cousins, “Cousins”, or “Mom’s cousins”, or by their names.

  5. radhakrishna

    what is my son in laws father to me

  6. Linda M. Kocsis

    My father was re-married. So I now have 2 step sisters. Each step sister has son. So, what is my relationship to them ??

  7. Ajit Kumar Mallick

    Bride of grant father

  8. MY 4 GREAT GRANDMOTHER’S FATHER WHO IS DIFFERENT THEN THE FAMILY OF 4 GREAT GRANDMOTHER. (BUTTERWORTH’S CONNECTING WITH THE HARRIS FAMILY).

  9. Stephen Forest

    Since I have two sets of grandchildren from two marriages, it looks like they are second cousins from your explanation, is that right? They all share me as a grandfather.

  10. John B. Gillen

    The daughter of my my mother’s half brother is what relation to my mother?

  11. In the relationship chain what is the relationship of a mother-in-law that is a niece of your great grandfather?

  12. What is My Paternal Aunt’s Daughter’s Husband relation to me?

  13. If my grandfather was my husbands dad would we be related? Tryin to figure out for puppies I recently purchased and discovered when I got family tree from AKC

    • My Thai step sons wife”s younger sister is she a niece to me or cousin and a uk citizen married to the sons /Thai mum?

  14. What is my wife’s cousin’s daughter in relation to me?

  15. What is my step grandmother’s great granddaughter to me

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