If friend come indigenous an eastern family, you’ve more than likely attended her fair re-publishing of family members gatherings, dinners, functions, etc. You’ve probably also experienced a instance like this at least once in her life:

Mom: greet your family members.

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You: *panicking because you don’t know just how to resolve any the them* uHM…

via Giphy

Can’t relate? Either did you do it mastered the arts of Chinese kinship state (in which case, congratulations!), or your aboriginal language doesn’t have the same kinship mechanism (or one simply as confusing) together Chinese.

For those of friend in the second category, here’s what’s going on: A kinship system determines what you contact your relatives — think a family members tree, but with all the relatives a person might possibly have and the terms by which they’d describe them. Chinese uses a different kinship system than English. The Chinese kinship system is classified together a descriptive (or Sudanese) kinship system. This method that you refer to each that your relatives with a various kin term (there are at least 8 various terms just to refer to your miscellaneous cousins).

Chinese Kinship device (shapes stand for gender; distinct names for each loved one – stood for by unique coloured shapes; no repeat of the same coloured shape shows no repetition of the kin term)
English Kinship device (shapes represent gender; surname for relatives overlap – stood for by similarly coloured shapes; repetition of the very same coloured shape shows repetition of the kin state used)

Here’s one example: in English, girlfriend would refer to your head aunts and maternal aunts through the same term: aunt. Yet in Chinese, the term for paternal aunt is various from the term because that maternal aunt. Take the concept, and apply that to all the various other relatives you have actually — aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and also everyone in between. That’s a the majority of terms!

Recently, i attended a family members dinner to celebrate my paternal grandfather’s birthday. Naturally, all of my father’s family members attended. And naturally, i addressed every one of my relatives as “auntie” and also “uncle”, favor I’ve excellent throughout my 19 year of life.

Honestly, it sort of sucks not knowing a whole component of my own language (not the I’m that good at Chinese to begin with). I’ve always struggled with addressing mine Chinese relatives. I’m additionally a tiny bit of a linguistics nerd, so kinship systems space pretty interesting to me. So, I decided to find out the Chinese kinship terms and share what i learnt with every one of you!

I’ve listed jyutping (romanization because that Cantonese together — I provided CantoDict) in square brackets because that each word. Also, inspect out these pronunciation guides because that jyutping letters and also tones! Happy learning!

A quick Primer

Many Chinese kinship state incorporate indigenous that indicate different types of relationships (I’ll speak to them relation markers), specifically relations by blood and by marriage. It’s important to understand these relationships, because that mainly determines the kin state you’ll use. This might be a good time to destruction up a family tree or contact a relative so you deserve to track who’s concerned who.

The Chinese kinship mechanism reveals a lot around Chinese culture and Chinese frameworks of relationships. Social relationship are greatly ingrained in language (because language is a foundation of social communication), and also kinship systems burned light on how we associate v one another. In Chinese, this is especially evident in relationship markers and also the usage of number to differentiate between siblings (because numbers signify importance too!).

Below the straightforward or formal state kinship terms, I’ve consisted of some casual or spoken variants that the kinship terms to the best of my knowledge. You’ll watch those provided below the heading “Casual/Spoken Variants”.

Immediate Family

Let’s start with your straight relatives. This component is pretty simple — no an intricate relation markers here. Several of these state will likewise appear later on in combination with other words, therefore I very recommend mastering this section before you move on to the rest!

Mother媽媽 Casual/Spoken Variants:媽咪 老媽子
Father爸爸 Casual/Spoken Variants:爹哋 老豆
Older Brother哥哥 Casual/Spoken Variant:大哥
Older Sister姐姐 Casual/Spoken Variant:家姐
Younger Brother弟弟 Casual/Spoken Variant:細老
Younger Sister妹妹 Casual/Spoken Variant:細妹

Grandparents and also Great-Grandparents

Moving a generation approximately grandparents, kinship terms are now different on either side of the household (maternal and paternal). In several of these state you’ll view the relation marker “外” . “外” literally method “outside”, and also indicates a relation outside of the head bloodline — a relationship by marriage.

Paternal Grandmother嫲嫲
Paternal Grandfather爺爺
Maternal Grandmother外婆 Casual/Spoken Variant:婆婆
Maternal Grandfather外公 Casual/Spoken Variant:公公
Paternal Great-grandmother太嫲
Paternal Great-grandfather太爺
Maternal Great-grandmother太婆
Maternal Great-grandfather太公

Uncles and Aunts

Here’s wherein I had actually (and quiet have) the many trouble — differentiating between aunts and uncles and their pair proves to be an arduous task. Sometimes, it’s hard to map the relationships between yourself and also your aunts and uncles also (because asking “who are you again?” without making the situation awkward is a feat in itself). If you’re yes, really stumped, or can’t number out who’s who in a timely way (don’t want to keep those passionate aunties waiting!), do yourself a favour and also default come “auntie” and also “uncle” — at least until girlfriend can figure out the correct kin terms. That an easy means to obtain out of an awkward silence while you racking your mind for the ideal word, or the stress and anxiety that could follow the usage of an not correct term. It might additionally make your aunts and uncles feeling younger than they really are — which (at the very least in my experience) they’ll definitely appreciate!

Elder head Aunt姑媽
Younger head Aunt姑姐
Elder head Uncle伯父
Younger paternal Uncle叔叔
Paternal Aunts’ Husbands姑丈
Elder paternal Uncle’s Wife伯娘
Younger paternal Uncle’s Wife阿嬸
Elder Maternal Aunt姨媽
Younger Maternal Aunt阿姨
Maternal Aunts’ Husbands姨丈
Maternal Uncles舅父
Maternal Uncles’ Wives舅母
Elder paternal Great-uncle伯公
Younger head Great-uncle叔公
Elder head Great-uncle’s Wife伯婆
Younger head Great-uncle’s Wife叔婆
Paternal Great-aunts姑婆
Paternal Great-aunts’ Husbands姑丈公
Maternal Great-uncles舅公
Maternal Great-uncles’ Wives舅婆
Maternal Great-aunts姨婆
Maternal Great-aunts’ Husbands姨丈公

Now here’s a problem: say your father has three elder sisters. They would certainly all be your 姑媽 , however how execute you differentiate in between the three? just how do you describe one, without referring to all?

In these situations, you would contact your eldest 姑媽 her 大姑媽 (where 大 way “big”), and also the others 二姑媽 and also 三姑媽 in bespeak of age (here’s a crash food on Chinese numerals). So, in this case, your 二姑媽 would be your center elder head aunt, and also your 三姑媽 would certainly be her youngest elder head aunt. Girlfriend could also call her youngest elder head aunt your 小姑媽 (where 小 means “small”), using 小 in ar of a numeral. These enhancements (大, 小, and numerals) deserve to be used before any kinship term come differentiate between siblings (whether they’re yours or not) in your family members tree.

Cousins and Their Spouses

Most that the terms because that cousin are shortened sibling state (姐 , 妹 , 哥 , 弟 ) with among two relation mite — 堂 or 表 — added in front. Here, the sibling terms show age and also gender (姐 is larger female, 妹 is younger female, 哥 is larger male, and also 弟 is younger male). The relation marker 堂 shows a connection by blood, when the relation marker 表 shows a connection by marriage.

Maternal Elder mrs Cousin表姐
Maternal Elder masculine Cousin表妹
Maternal Younger woman Cousin表哥
Maternal Younger masculine Cousin表弟
Father’s Brother’s Daughter (Older 보다 You)堂姐
Father’s Brother’s Daughter (Younger 보다 You)堂妹
Father’s Brother’s child (Older than You)堂哥
Father’s Brother’s child (Younger than You)堂弟
Father’s Sister’s Daughter (Older than You)表姐 *
Father’s Sister’s Daughter (Younger 보다 You)表妹 *
Father’s Sister’s child (Older than You)表哥 *
Father’s Sister’s son (Younger 보다 You)表弟 *
表哥’s Wife表嫂
表姐’s Husband表姐夫
表弟’s Wife表弟婦
表妹’s Husband表妹夫
堂哥’s Wife堂嫂
堂姐’s Husband堂姐夫
堂弟’s Wife堂弟婦
堂妹’s Husband堂妹夫

*Note: The children of her father’s instant sisters are your 表姐 , 表妹 , 表哥 , and 表弟 since the youngsters of your father’s sisters space categorized under her father’s sisters’ husbands’ bloodlines, do them connected by marriage.

Nieces and also Nephews

Similar to your cousins, just how you refer to your nieces and nephews depends on their relation to her paternal bloodline.

Immediate Brother’s Daughter姪女
Immediate Brother’s Son侄仔
Immediate Sister’s Daughter外甥女
Immediate Sister’s Son外甥

Again, “外” here means a partnership by marriage into the head bloodline. Her 外甥女 and 外甥 belonging under her brother-in-law’s bloodline and have taken her brother-in-law’s last name, therefore they are external your head bloodline and take the “外” (marriage by relationship) relationship marker.


Here, you’ll an alert the repetition of the word “孫” , i m sorry literally means “descendant”. You’ll additionally see an ext of “外” , the “marriage through relationship” relationship marker.

Son’s Son孫仔
Son’s Daughter孫女
Daughter’s Son外孫
Daughter’s Daughter外孫女


What you contact your in-laws depends on even if it is you marry into a family, or whether her spouse marries into your family. You’ll likewise see the usage of the relation marker “外” here.

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Husband’s Father老爺
Husband’s Mother奶奶
Wife’s Father外父
Wife’s Mother外母
Husband’s Elder Brother大伯
Husband’s Elder Sister姑奶
Husband’s Younger Brother小叔
Husband’s Younger Sister姑仔
Wife’s Elder Brother大舅
Wife’s Elder Sister大姨
Wife’s Younger Brother舅仔
Wife’s Younger Sister姨仔
Son’s young Wife孫新抱
Daughter’s boy Wife外孫新抱
Son’s Daughter’s Husband孫女婿
Daughter’s Daughter’s Husband外孫女婿

Congratulations! You’ve now learnt exactly how to deal with your loved ones in Cantonese!

Still confused? Don’t feeling discouraged — kinship state are hard to learn and also remember (I still struggle sometimes!). Because that a fast refresher, inspect out this video clip by turn off The an excellent Wall because that a rapid recap, and also this Omniglot write-up for a table the Chinese kinship terms and their variants in various Chinese dialects! If she interested in learning around the an ext technical next of kinship terms, the short article Terms of deal with in Cantonese discusses the linguistics of kinship terms, and also The cultural Connotations and Communicative functions of Chinese Kinship Terms elaborates ~ above the functions of kinship terms in culture, society, and also communication.

Do friend speak a language that uses a different kinship system? have actually you had similar struggles through kinship systems? Or, probably you’ve mastered her kinship system and also have tips for us? leave a comment around your experiences — I’d love come hear around them!