Italian for family: close family members
In Italy, family is sacred: it is an essential aspect of the culture and every Italian’s life, so knowing all the terms to talk about your family is key if you want to sound like a native speaker.
Let’s start with those blessed creatures who put us into this world…
Parents in Italian
- I genitori (the parents)
I miei genitori sono Canadesi, ma vivono in Inghilterra.
My parents are from Canada, but they live in England.
Careful here, as there is a word in Italian that is dangerously similar to “parents”: i parenti.
This, however, means “the relatives”, and not “the parents”!
- i parenti (the relatives)
I tuoi parenti vivono in Italia?
Do your relatives live in Italy?
The parents are:
- la madre / la mamma (mother / mom)
Mia madre sta avendo dei problemi con il lavoro.
My mother is having some problems at work.
- il padre / il papà / il babbo (father / dad)
Il mio babbo fa il falegname.
My dad is a carpenter.
As you might have guessed, il padre and la madre are more formal, while mamma and papa (or babbo) is the endearing term most Italians use to refer to their parents.
Some other terms you want to learn are those that refer to spouses:
- il marito: husband
Mio marito è Giapponese.
My husband is Japanese.
- la moglie: wife
Mia moglie è un’atleta olimpica.
My wife is an Olympic athlete.
- il figlio: son
- la figlia: daughter
If you want to talk about multiple children, you can say i figli if they are only boys or mixed, and le figlie if they are only girls.
Giovanni ha tre figlie.
Giovanni has three daughters.
As in English, if you are talking about young children, you can use the words bambino / bambina (child).
Then you want to be able to talk about your siblings… Careful though, there is no word for “sibling” in Italian, you will always have to specify the gender!
- il fratello: brother
Quanti fratelli hai?
How many brothers do you have?
- la sorella: sister
Mia sorella si chiama Giorgia.
My sister’s name is Giorgia.
La famiglia: extended family in Italian
Then, there is what we call “the extended family” in English, which in Italian is still la famiglia, and it can actually be as close as your closer family members!
The older generation
- i nonni: grandparents
I miei nonni vivono a Napoli.
My grandparents live in Naples.
- il nonno: grandfather
Tuo nonno è Italiano?
Is your grandfather Italian?
- la nonna: grandmother
Mia nonna cucina benissimo!
My grandma cooks so well!
- i bisnonni: great grandparents
I tuoi bisnonni sono ancora vivi?
Are your great-grandparents still alive?
- il bisnonno: great grandfather
Il mio bisnonno ha appena compiuto novant’anni.
My great grandfather just turned 90.
- la bisnonna: great grandmother
La mia bisnonna si chiama Adele.
My great-grandmother’s name is Adele.
The younger generation
- i nipoti: grandchildren
Luca ha già due nipoti!
Luca already has two grandchildren!
- il nipote: grandson
- la nipote: granddaughter
Mia nipote ha iniziato la scuola oggi.
My granddaughter started school today.
- pronipote: great-grandson/ great-granddaughter
And here are other very important family members, which in Italian families are usually considered part of the closest famiglia:
- la zia / le zie: the aunt
- lo zio /gli zii: the uncle
- il cugino: cousin (male)
Giuseppe è tuo cugino? Non lo sapevo!
Is Giuseppe your cousin? I did not know!
- la cugina: cousin (female)
- il nipote: nephew
Mia sorella e mio nipote vengono a cena stasera.
My sister and my nephew will come for dinner tonight.
- la nipote: niece
Have you noticed? The Italian word for grandson/daughter and nephew and niece is the same: il nipote / la nipote.
During a conversation, you will have to understand which one people mean by the context!
If your 30-year-old Italian friend is talking about sua nipote, for example, he probably means his sister’s daughter, and not his own granddaughter!
La famiglia: the in-laws in Italian
Of course, no family is complete without the in-laws. And, in Italian, things get a little more interesting here than they are in English!
Nothing to worry about though, just some more terms to memorize, and these will actually make you sound like you know what you’re doing with your language skills.
- il suocero: father-in-law
- la suocera: mother-in-law
- i suoceri: parents-in-law
Domani andiamo a pranzo dai miei suoceri.
Tomorrow we’ll have lunch with my parents-in-law.
- il genero: son-in-law
Il marito di mia figlia è mio genero.
My daughter’s husband is my son-in-law.
- la nuora: daughter-in-law
La moglie di mio figlio è mia nuora.
My son’s wife is my daughter-in-law.
- il cognato: brother-in-law
Mio cognato è il marito di mia sorella.
My brother-in-law is my sister’s husband.
- la cognata: sister-in-law
Mia cognata è la moglie di mio fratello.
My sister-in-law is my brother’s wife.
La famiglia: modern families in Italian
In modern families, it is not at all uncommon for people to separate, remarry and start a family with another partner, who might already have children themselves.
In Italian, we have words for these relations, although they have a somewhat negative sense.
As you can see, they all have pejorative suffixes in Italian.
These words are not commonly used anymore, as they are considered derogative by some, but it is good to know them!
- il patrigno: stepfather
- la matrigna: stepmother
- il figliastro: stepson
- la figliastra: stepdaughter
- il fratellastro: stepbrother
- la sorellastra: stepsister
Instead of these terms, people now prefer to describe the relationship they have with the person.
For example, il patrigno can be il marito di mia madre, a figliastro can be il figlio di mio marito, etc.
There is also a new word proposed a few years ago to describe a stepchild: configlio.
My family in Italian
A mafia clan can be referred to as a famiglia, and it can also be used to categorize things that share common characteristics:
Famiglia di vocaboli.
Famiglia di vettori (matematica).
Vector family (mathematics).
Famiglia di mammiferi carnivori.
Carnivorous mammal family.
Famiglia can be used in idioms to express the formation of a family, implying the marriage or birth of a child:
La mia famiglia si allarga.
My family is getting bigger (a baby is coming).
Mettere su famiglia.
To get married, to start a family.
You can use the term famiglia to indicate that you’re doing something with other family members:
Fare le cose in famiglia.
To do things together.
I panni sporchi si lavano in famiglia.
Family matters should be kept within the family (don’t wash your dirty linen in public).
Avere una famiglia alle spalle.
To have a family that supports you (spalle means shoulders).
You can say famiglia modesta or famigliola if you come from a modest family, however, the latter has a more negative connotation.
If you come from a wealthy family, say essere di buona famiglia (to be of a good family) or venire da una buona famiglia (to come from a good family).
Family in the Italian Language
The noun famiglia can be used in conjunction with other words to describe various types of families and other things:
- famiglia reale = royal family;
- capo famiglia = head of the household;
- famiglia patriarcale = patriarchal family;
- stato di famiglia = family status;
- certificato di famiglia = family certificate;
Famiglia can become the adjective famigliare, even though the spelling familiare is more widespread.
It means “familiar,” although it can also refer to items intended for family use.
Sto cercando un’auto familiare.
I’m looking for a family car.
When used as a noun, familiare refers to a relative.
The action of familiarizing oneself with something, or two individuals coming to know one other, is described by the verb familiarizzare.
Ho cominciato a familiarizzare con i vicini di casa. Mi sembrano delle persone simpatiche.
I’ve started getting to know my new neighbors. They seem nice people.
Finally, there’s the word familiarità, which means “familiarity.” It refers to someone who has trust in or knowledge of another person or item.
Mia nonna ha una buona familiarità con il telefonino adesso.
My grandma has a good familiarity with the cellphone now.
Describing family in Italian
In Italian culture, as in many other cultures, the family is very important. The more you travel south, the more important family becomes.
With these Italian phrases and words in your vocabulary, you’ll be well-equipped to describe your family in Italian and much more.
If you want to know even more about family members in Italian check out “how to say family and family member names“.
Please let me know if you need any help in the comment section below.
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