The Basic Vocabulary for French Family Members
The words for French family members are pretty straightforward, and, like other French words, many have a Latin root. For example, father in French is père, which comes from the Latin patre (for father). Word nerds out there will notice that this root word connects with the English patron, patriarch and the Spanish word padré. The Latin connection is what helped me learn the family words in Spanish, and might be helpful to fellow French nerds.
Anyway, here’s a chart for each of the main family members in French (for convenience, I am ignoring the existence of half-siblings and such):
The French have a neat way of naming step-families and in-laws which mostly involves some variation of the word beautiful. Niceties that ease social interactions with new or inherited family members are built into the French words that describe those people. So, when your mom marries a sketchy new dude, or you marry a great guy with an unfortunate mom, they’re referred to as your beau-père (handsome father) and belle-mère (beautiful mother).
How this came to be is anyone’s guess, but at some point the French nation decided collectively to encode fake-liking extended family into the language! The extended family breakdown is listed in the chart below – notice how there is no distinction between step-family and in-laws; two for the price of one!
|Step-father / father-in-law||Beau-Père|
|Step-mother / mother-in-law||Belle-Mère|
|Step-brother / brother-in-law||Beau-Frère|
|Step-sister / sister-in-law||Belle-Soeur|
You know how you call your grandmother “nan” or “gramma”, or some other thing unique to your family? Well, that also happens in French. French-Canadians, for example, often refer to grandparents as mémère and pépère. In France, you may refer to your grandparents as Mami and Papi. There are also pejorative ways of referring to family who are jerks….but that’s another blog post all by itself!
Family Family Members Stereotypes
There are tons of stereotypes about the French just like there are plenty of stereotypes of every culture, and there’s usually a bit of truth to them. With family members in French there is one trope that might come in handy for French language learners to know: the crazy aunt.
There are millions of great uncles in North America, but there are just enough odd folks to form the core of the “crazy” uncle meme. Just like many people worry about run-ins with an unconventional uncle over Thanksgiving dinner, the French have the same concerns, but about a quirky aunt. Where the North American uncle might be racist or politically problematic, the French aunt stereotype is hyper-critical of every aspect of your life.
Beware! At Thanksgiving dinner in France, your every lifestyle choice will be put under the microscope. It is wise to arm yourself with a defense of everything from your choice of mate to your brand of toothpaste.
This probably won’t happen to you, but this is a thing, and you never know.
Learn French Faster Using LingQ
Learning a language is a window into the culture; the two go hand in hand. There is so much cultural baggage in French that things can get super complicated, for example levels of formality in speech and dress vary from place to place in la francophonie. It’s always good to at least try to learn a bit about what to say and especially what NOT to say before French family encounters.
If you want to dive into French content, use LingQ. With over 1000s of hours of French audio and dialogue for you to read and listen to, LingQ makes studying efficient. You can also import your favorite content into LingQ too (think blogs, videos, music and much more).
Here’s an example of what a lesson looks like in LingQ.
As you can see, you can listen, read, save, and review your words… all in one platform. LingQ’s also available on mobile too. So take your lessons on the go and never miss an hour of practice.
Learning French isn’t hard, especially if you already speak English. Good luck!
Philippe Croteau is a professional language consultant and language learner in Simcoe County, Ontario, where he lives with his great partner and two amazing daughters. He speaks French, English, Japanese, and can make a ton of mistakes in German, Russian, Hindi, Urdu, Spanish and Arabic.