Family Vocabulary

It’s important to learn a good range of family vocabulary as there’s a high chance you’ll get questions about your family in Part 1 of the IELTS Speaking test.

The topic could also come up in Parts 2 and 3 as well as being the subject of the Writing, Listening or Reading tests.

Here are a few things you could be asked about:

  • Facts about your family
  • Details of family relationships
  • Family activities & celebrations
  • A family member you admire 
  • Changes in family roles
  • The generation gap
  • Parental responsibility
  • The future of the family

This page includes over 100 common words and phrases related to the family. I’ve added an explanation for each one and a sample sentence to show it in context where needed. This will help you to learn how to use this family vocabulary correctly.

Don’t try to learn them all. Look at my suggestions below as to the best way to use this list.

Four generations of the same family.

To ensure that you’re well prepared to answer any family-related question, I’ve included four things here:

  • IELTS-style questions on the topic of the family
  • Sample answers
  • A list of common family vocabulary with definitions & sample sentences
  • Links to online reading and listening resources

You’ll find PDF downloads of both the questions and sample answers and the family vocabulary list at the bottom of the respective sections.

The questions relate to the Speaking test because this part of the exam offers the broadest range of possible questions on this topic. They give the best opportunity for me to demonstrate the vocabulary and for you to practise using it.

I’ve included IELTS-style questions and answers for all three parts of the Speaking test. I've highlighted keywords and phrases in bold.

You'll find these words and phrases, and many others, in the vocabulary list beneath. The list also includes the explanations and sample sentences and there’s an audio to listen to the pronunciation.

The vocabulary list contains words and phrases relevant to all parts of the IELTS exam.

Finally, at the bottom of the page, I've added links to topical articles, short videos and podcasts that will help you to improve both your family vocabulary and your reading and listening skills.

IELTS-Style Speaking Test Questions and Answers

Common family vocabulary is highlighted in bold.

Part 1

1) How many people are there in your immediate family?

Four people make up my immediate family – my dad, my sister and my two bothers. They all live close to me except for my youngest brother who moved away because of his work.


2) Do you get along well with your family?

Most definitely. I used to argue with my brothers and sister a lot when we were. It was sibling rivalry I guess but we get on really well now.


3) Which member of your family are you closest to?

I’d have to say my sister but we’re a close-knit family and we all get along just great.


4) How much time do you spend with your family?

We used to go to my parent’s house for Sunday tea every few weeks but since my mother died, my oldest brother, my sister and I take turns to spend time supporting our father. This means that we don’t all get together so often. However, we still have family gatherings on special occasions.


5) When did you last have a family party?

Just a few weeks ago. It was for my father’s birthday. We had a get-together at his house and we all took along cakes and snacks to share.

A happy sister and brother.

Part 2

Describe a family celebration that you attended.

You should say:

  • where this celebration was held
  • why it was held
  • what you did at the event

and explain what you enjoyed about the celebration.

One of the most memorable family events of recent years was my father’s 80th birthday. We wanted to have a special celebration for him but decided to keep it a secret so as to surprise him on the day.

My youngest brother, who lives two and a half hours drive away from the rest of my immediate family, told Dad that he’d come down with his family so we could all go out for a meal together. What we actually did was to invite members of our extended family to come as well without my father knowing. Most of them live a long way away, like in London or Scotland, so we don’t see them very often. They came down the day before and stayed in local hotels.

There was a lot to arrange and it was difficult to sort everything without Dad guessing what we were up to. There were several times when I thought he must know something was going on but was just playing along and pretending he didn’t.

We booked a table at a local restaurant and on the day, my sister decorated it with balloons and other party bits and pieces. It looked amazing. It was a very long table as in the end there were more than twenty family members at the meal. So, as well as my parents and my siblings, there were also nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins. I think it was probably the biggest family gathering we’d ever had.

We arranged for Dad and Mum to be the last to arrive so that everyone else could be seated at the table waiting for them. I’ll never forget Dad’s face when he walked into the restaurant. He hadn’t guessed what we were arranging and it was a real surprise to him to see everyone there.

We had a lovely meal together but the best thing was spending time with all our relatives. It made me realize what a close-knit family we are even though we don’t see each other very often. I think that Dad enjoyed it too and I hope it showed him how much he means to our whole family.

A family get-together to celebrate a birthday.

Part 3

1) In what ways can people in a family be similar to each other?

Both immediate and extended family members often have a lot of similarities. For example, they can look alike. My brother Steve is the spitting image of our cousin Peter, while my sister takes after our mother in the way she both looks and talks.

Also, relatives may be good at the same things or do similar types of work. Most of my extended family are either teachers or scientists.

Specific interests often run in the family. In my family, we all love the outdoors and nature, particularly the older generation. Younger family members do like to go out walking as well but now that my nieces and nephews are all teenagers, they spend a lot of time on their electronic gadgets.

The final way that people in a family can be alike is in their personality, and especially in their sense of humour.


2) In terms of personality, are people influenced more by their family or by their friends?

In my opinion, personality is mostly hereditary. I think that the main traits of a person’s character are passed down from parents to their offspring. Some people are more like their father, others more like their mother but most of us can recognise characteristics of both parents in our own personality. For example, I’m quiet like my dad and have my mum’s creativity.

How children are raised also affects the way they think, feel and behave as they grow up. Kids from a happy, stable family background generally have a normal personality. However, an unhappy childhood, which may include some form of abuse, will definitely affect a child’s mental development and their character later in life.

This suggests that personality can change so it’s probably true that the people we spend time with as friends and colleagues also influence the way we think, feel and behave. However, I don’t think that they alter our deepest character.

So in conclusion, I’d say that an understanding of personality is quite complex and involves both hereditary and social factors.


3) How has the role of elderly people in the family changed in recent times?

In the past, the older generation was highly respected in most cultures. They were considered to be wise because of all the things they’d learnt in their long lives. Elderly family members would have been family leaders, teachers and spiritual guides to the younger generation. They helped to maintain the structure and stability of the family.

One of their most important roles was to pass on the old traditions and to maintain traditional culture. The other vital job they did, especially the grandmothers, was to provide childcare for their grandchildren. They would certainly have played an important role in their upbringing.

In my country, most of this changed when it became normal for adult children to move away to study and get better jobs. Family ties are no longer so strong and elderly people aren’t respected as they once were. Grandparents aren’t the people we usually go to for advice these days. To be honest, many elderly people don’t have a significant role in most families any more. However, many do still look after the grandchildren if they live close to them.

An extended Indian family enjoying a day out together.

Click this link to get a PDF download of these practise questions & sample answers.

Download PDF Now

Family Vocabulary

* Important

  • Do not try and learn this list of family vocabulary.
  • Identify the vocabulary you find useful for answering practise questions about the family.
  • Record these in your vocabulary notebook and practise using them regularly.

I recommend that you create your own answers to the Speaking questions on this page. You will find many other IELTS-style practise questions by searching online. 

For help on how to learn vocabulary, what to learn and how to record it, visit these pages:

How to Learn Vocabulary for IELTS

Top 6 Types of IELTS Vocabulary & Topic Word Lists

Family Vocabulary – Common Words & Phrases

Family Vocabulary Set 1: Types of Family

family – a group of people who are related to each other

- Mohit was very nervous when he met his girlfriend’s family for the first time.

immediate family – your closest relations, such as your parents, children, husband or wife

- My immediate family are my dad, mum and two sisters.

nuclear family – parents and their children

- The average nuclear family in the US is made up of parents and two children.

extended family – a family unit that includes grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, and uncles, etc. in addition to parents and children

- I have a large extended family with many nieces, nephews and cousins.

dysfunctional family – a family that is not behaving or working normally, where there is conflict, misbehaviour, etc.

- Cynthia came from a dysfunctional family and could often be seen wandering the street on her own when she was young.

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Family Vocabulary Set 2: Family Members - General Terms

family member – someone who belongs to a specific family

- I have family members living all over the world.

to be related to – to belong to the same family as

- I’m related to many people in my village as my family has lived here for generations.

a relative – someone who is part of your family

- We are going to visit relatives who live on the coast for our holiday this year.

blood relative – someone you are related to through birth rather than marriage

- Aunty Sylvia is my blood relative but Uncle George, her husband, is only related to me by marriage.

distant relative – generally, a relative who is a third cousin or greater, or a great aunt or uncle, especially when you have little or no involvement with him or her.

- A member of my family died last week but they were a distant relative and I didn’t know them very well.

next of kinthe person or group of people you are most closely related to

- When you apply for a passport, you have to name your next of kin in case there is an emergency while you are away travelling.

descendants – a person who is related to you and who lives after you, such as your child or grandchild, and all future generations

ancestors – family members from past generations

- I’m writing my autobiography so that my descendants will know what life was like for one of their ancestors.

householdall the people who live in one house

- There are now only three people in my household as my older brother has gone away to university.

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Family Vocabulary Set 3: Immediate family

father a man in relation to his child or children

mother – a  woman in relation to her child or children

parent – father or mother

husband – the male partner in a marriage; a married man

wife – the female partner in a marriage; a married woman

spousea husband or wife

son – a person’s boy child

daughter – a person’s girl child

brother – a male who has the same parents as another person

sister – a female who has the same parents as another person

big brother / older brother (or sister)older than you

little sister / younger sister (or brother)younger than you

- I have two younger sisters but I do wish I had an older brother.

sibling – a brother or sister

- I have three siblings, two brothers and a sister.

twin – either of two children born to the same mother on the same occasion

- My sister has just given birth to twins, a boy and a girl.

identical twinstwins who look exactly the same

- I have an identical twin brother and even our parents find it difficult to tell us apart.

an only child – a child who doesn’t have any brothers or sisters

- It can be lonely being an only child as you don’t have siblings to play with.

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Family Vocabulary Set 4: Extended family

uncle – the brother of your mother or father

aunt – the sister of your mother or father

nephew – the male child of your brother or sister

niece – the female child of your brother or sister

cousin – a child of your uncle or aunt

grandparentsthe parents of your parents

grandfatherthe father of your mother or father

grandmotherthe mother of your father or mother

grandchildrenthe children of your children

grandsonthe son of your son or daughter

granddaughterthe daughter of your son or daughter

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Family Vocabulary Set 5: In-laws

in-laws – the relatives of your husband or wife

- When we were first married, we couldn’t afford a place of our own so lived with the in-laws.

mother-in-law – mother of your spouse

- Many people don’t get on with their mother-in-law but mine is really nice.

father-in-law – father of your spouse

- My father-in-law offered me a job in the family business so he is also my boss.

son-in-lawthe husband of your daughter

- I didn’t like Amir when I first met him but he’s a great son-in-law and helps me out whenever I need it.

daughter-in-lawthe wife of your son

- We are very happy that our son has decided to marry Zehra and look forward to her becoming our daughter-in-law.

brother-in-lawthe husband of your sister

- My brother-in-law is lazy and not a very good husband to my sister.

sister-in-lawthe wife of your brother

- I often help my sister-in-law to look after my baby niece.

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Family Vocabulary Set 6: Stepfamilies

step – in the context of family relationships, ‘step’ means that you are related to the person because of one of your parents marries one of their parents

stepmother – the wife of your father, but not your biological mother

stepfatherthe husband of your mother, but not your biological father

stepson the son of your new wife or husband, but not your biological son

stepdaughter the daughter of your new wife or husband, but not your biological daughter

stepsisterthe daughter of your stepmother or stepfather

stepbrother the son of your stepmother or stepfather

half-brother a brother you have only one parent in common with

half-sister a sister you have only one parent in common with

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Family Vocabulary Set 7: Parenting

parent – a person's father or mother

- I’m glad that my parents live close by as it’s easy to visit them.

motherhoodthe state of being a mother

- I’d like to have children one day but I’m not ready for motherhood yet.

fatherhood – the state of being a father

- Sakda is taking the responsibilities of fatherhood seriously and now only goes out drinking with his friends once a month.

to start a family – to have children

- Billy and I are planning to start a family as soon as we get married.

to give birth – to have a baby

- It was a special moment in Cesar’s life when he saw his wife giving birth to their first child.

offspring – a person's child or children

- My two sisters are coming over later with their offspring so the house is going to be very noisy.

family mana man who enjoys being at home with his wife and children

- Deepak used to love partying but now that he has kids he’s become a real family man.

family lifethe kind of life a person normally leads when they are married and have children 

- My husband and I enjoy doing lots of activities with our children and we all have a great family life together.

to raise (a child) – to take ​care of a child until they become an adult 

- It’s a big responsibility raising children but I love being a parent.

to bring up (a child) – to raise a child

- When Jae-min’s husband died, she was left to bring up the children on her own.

upbringingthe way in which you are treated and educated when young, especially by your parents

- I was fortunate to have a good upbringing but not all children have caring parents who look after them well and teach them the right way to behave.

to support (a family) – to have enough money to be able to look after a family

- Egor earned very low wages and had to work two jobs to support his family.

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

breadwinner – the member of a family who earns most of the money that the family needs

- In many countries, men are expected to be the breadwinner in a family.

dependant someone who depends on you for financial support, such as a child or family member who does not work

- I‘m working hard to get a promotion and earn more money now that I’m a husband and a father and have dependants who rely on me.

to adopt – to legally take another person's child into your own family and take care of them as your own child

- Paul and Siri were unable to have children of their own and decided to adopt a baby.

to fosterto take care of someone else’s child, usually for a limited time, without becoming the child's legal parent

- Even though I’m an only child, I always had other boy’s and girl’s to play with when I was growing up as mum and dad often used to foster other children.

over-protective parents – a parent who protect their child too much

- Overprotective parents can prevent their children from building confidence and independence.

spoilt childa child who shows bad behaviour because they have been allowed to do or have anything they want

- I don’t like playing with the girl next door because she’s a spoilt child and gets in a temper if I don’t let her win all the games.

single parent a person bringing up a child or children without a partner

- My sister is a single parent now that her husband has left her.

stay at home parent / stay at home muma parent who stays at home to take care of their children rather than going out to work

- These days, it’s far more usual for men to be a stay-at-home parent than when I was young when it was always the mother who looked after the kids.

to look after – to take care of

- I’m going to look after my daughter’s children on Saturday while she has a day out with her friends.

childcarethe care of children, especially by a crèche, nursery or childminder while parents are working

- Childcare is a big problem for many working parents and they are lucky if their own parents can help out.

strictstrongly limiting someone's freedom to behave as they wish, or likely to severely punish someone if they do not obey

- My parents are very strict with me and I have to finish all my homework before I’m allowed to play or watch TV.

authoritariandemanding that people obey completely and refusing to allow them the freedom to act as they wish

- My father was very authoritarian when I was growing up and I was terrified of him.

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Family Vocabulary Set 8: The Generations

generation – all the people of about the same age within a society or within a particular family

- It’s hard to believe how much everyday life has changed for my grandparent’s generation.

older generation – people of middle-age and older

younger generation – young adults, teenagers and children

- The older generation are often stuck in their ways, while the younger generation welcome change.

generation gapa difference of opinions between one generation and another regarding beliefs and attitudes, often leading to a lack of understanding between them

- It’s a skilled politician who can bridge the generation gap.

teenager – a person aged between 13 and 19 years

- My lovely little boy turned into a rebellious monster when he was a teenager but now he’s a lovely young man.

adolescent – a young person who is developing into an adult

- Many adolescents develop emotional problems as they try to find their place in the world.

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Family Vocabulary Set 9: Other vocabulary

sibling rivalry the feeling of competitiveness that often exists between brothers and sisters 

- There was huge sibling rivalry between my two brothers and they were always fighting but they are the best of friends now that they’re adults.

run in the familya common feature in a family; something which is passed from parents to children

- Artistic ability seems to run in the family.

hereditarypassed from the genes of a parent to a child

- Diabetes is hereditary in our family so I make sure that I eat healthily and keep fit to lessen my chances of getting it.

childhood – the time when someone is a child

- Many children in the world do not have a happy childhood.

family background – the details of a person's family regarding education, social status, etc.

- We want our son to marry a girl from a good family background.

family gathering / family get-together – an informal event where family members meet up

- We’re having a family get-together to celebrate my mother’s birthday.

close-knit – involving groups of people in which everyone supports each other

- We’re a close-knit family and know that we can rely on each other when one of us needs help.

family ties – the sense of connection between family members

- Family ties aren’t as strong as they used to be in my country because relatives often live many miles apart and even in different countries.

to care for – to provide the things someone needs, especially someone who is young, old, or ill

- In my country, sons and daughters are expected to care for their elderly parents.

a widow – a woman whose husband has died

- Her husband died young and she has been a widow for almost thirty years now.

a widower – a man whose wife has died

- My mother died last year so my father is now a widower.

to desert – to leave someone without help or in a difficult situation and not come back

- My father deserted us when I was young and my mother has brought me up on her own.

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Family Vocabulary Set 10: Idioms

There are many idioms about the family but I’ve chosen just a few that might prove a useful addition to your family vocabulary. Pick only one or two to learn and make sure that you know how to use them 100% or they won’t make sense.

If you’re unsure about them, give them a miss rather than risking sounding silly.

get on with / get along withto like someone and have a friendly relationship with them

- I used to fight with my siblings when we were young but I get on with them really well now that we’re adults.

to fall out with / to have a falling out to have a disagreement which ruins a relationship with that person

- I fell out with my sister when she started dating my boyfriend.

- The two brothers had a falling out over the broken toy.

on speaking terms – friendly enough to talk

- My parents had a big argument and are not on speaking terms at the moment.

to look alike – to look very similar to someone else

- My twin sister and I look alike and people often call us by each other’s names.

to take after (someone) – to be very similar to an older family member

- Mila was excellent at drawing. She took after her mother who was a famous artist.

a chip off the old block – the person is very similar (in character and personality) to one of their parents

- Sanjay is always cracking jokes, just like his father. He’s a real chip off the old block.

to follow in someone’s footsteps – to do the same thing as someone else did previously, especially someone in your family

- I want to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a doctor like he is.

spitting image – to look extremely similar to someone

- Cher is the spitting image of her mother.

wears the trousers – to be the person in a family who holds the authority and makes decisions

- My dad likes to thinks that he’s in charge but it’s my mother who wears the trousers in our house.

black sheep (of the family)someone who brings shame to their family by being different or doing something wrong

- My brother first started getting into trouble with the police when he was a teenager and he’s become the black sheep of the family.

Family Vocabulary Pronunciation

Click this link to get a PDF download of this list of family vocabulary.

Download PDF Now

Ways to Improve Your Family Vocabulary

One of the best ways to improve your family vocabulary is through reading. Watching topic related YouTube videos and listening to podcasts is also hugely beneficial.

Here are some online resources I recommend.


Articles About the Family

Australian Institute of Family Studies

Raising Children – The Australian Parenting Website

The Independent - Family

The New York Times - Family


TED Talks

I love TED Talks. They are short videos with a powerful message and are generally very interesting. They’re ideal for improving your vocabulary and give valuable listening skills practise.

Search TED Talks - The Family & TED Talks - Parenting to help you improve your family vocabulary.

All Topic Vocabulary

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