Chinese Family Fully Explained
I'm only going to be going over immediate and secondary family in this post. I recommend this video if you want to learn all the terms for extended family members. Beware, however, that they tend to use the more colloquial and/or different terms.
Mother is 妈妈, father is 爸爸. More formally or respectfully, mother is 母亲 and father is 父亲. Parents are 爸妈 and likewise, more formally or respectfully, parents are 父母.
Husband is 丈夫 more formally or respectfully. However, 先生 is more commonly used in everyday situations. 老公 is also used (though more colloquially). Note that 先生 can also mean "Mr". For instance, Mr. Wang would be “王先生”.
Similarly, wife is 妻子 in more formal or respectful situations, 太太 most commonly (in everyday situations), and 老婆 more colloquially. I guess Duolingo teaches the most formal terms (丈夫 and 妻子) so that people won't be embarrassed in situations where they might be used. However, it can sound awkward when these terms are used in informal situations.
Older brother is 哥哥, and younger brother is 弟弟. Brothers are 兄弟. Older sister is 姐姐 and younger sister is 妹妹. Similarly, sisters are 姐妹. If you have multiple older brothers, 大哥 is the oldest older brother and 小哥 is the youngest older brother. Between 大哥 and 小哥 you can use 二哥，三哥, etc. if you have three older brothers or more. This works with 姐, 妹, and 弟 as well. Siblings are 兄弟姐妹. 兄 is used instead of 哥 in this case because it is a bounded phrase from Classical Chinese.
大哥 or 大姐 you might hear people say occasionally when asking for something. For instance, at a market in China, you might hear someone say "大姐! 请把这个更便宜!" (Oldest sister! Please make this cheaper!" You might have heard the saying that family comes first in China; if you include someone in your family by saying this to them, it can make them more likely to do something you want them to.
小姐 was borrowed to mean "miss", in addition to youngest older sister. For instance, Miss Zhang would be "张小姐“. Be careful, though. Colloquially, 小姐 can mean bargirl or prostitute. Don't be scared to use it because of this, though. If you say “小姐“ to a woman when trying to get their attention, for example, it is perfectly fine.
On father's side:
Grandfather is 爷爷, and grandmother is 奶奶. More formally or respectfully, however, grandfather is 祖父 and 祖母. Similarly, grandparents are 爷爷奶奶, or 祖父母 more formally or respectfully.
On mother's side:
Grandfather is 外公 or 姥爷 (also 公公 more colloquially). More formally, grandfather is 外祖父. Grandmother is 外婆 or 姥姥 (also 婆婆 more colloquially). Similarly, more formally or respectfully, grandmother is 外祖母. Grandparents are 外公外婆, or 外祖父母 more formally or respectfully.
Why is 外 used? 外 means 'outside', and traditionally girls would marry out of the family. Therefore, this is reflected in the terms for many people on the mother's side of the family.
Now for aunts and uncles...
On father's side:
Father's older brother is 伯伯 and his younger brother is 叔叔. Father's sister is 姑妈 (if she is older), or 姑姑 (if she is younger). Your cousins...
If they are your uncle's kids: Your male cousin is your 堂兄 (if he is older than you), or 堂弟 (if he is younger). Similarly, your female cousin is your 堂姐 (if she is older than you), or 堂妹 (if she is younger).
If they are your aunt's kids: Your male cousin is your 故表哥 (if he is older), or 故表弟 (if he is younger). Similarly, your female cousin is your 故表姐 (if she is older), or 故表妹 (if she is younger).
On mother's side:
Mother's brother is 舅舅 (regardless of whether they are older or younger). Mother's older sister is 姨妈, and younger sister is 阿姨. Note that 阿姨 can also be used when addressing any woman who is significantly older than you. Regardless of whether they are your uncle or aunt's kids, your male cousin is your 表哥 (if he is older), or 表弟 (if he is younger). Similarly, your female cousin is your 表姐 (if she is older), or 表妹 (if she is younger).
If you or your siblings have kids...
Kids are 孩子, son is 儿子, and daughter is 女儿. Brother's son is 侄子; brother's daughter is 侄女. If you are female, then sister's son is 姨甥 and sister's daughter is 姨甥女. However, if you are male, then sister's son is 外甥 and sister's daughter is 外甥女.
I know all these terms can be tough to remember. But it will be worth it in the long run. They're really not that complicated, trust me. The formal ones you will (most likely) rarely have to use, so my advice is to focus on the standard ones first and then the formal ones later. After that, if you can remember those, then focus on the colloquial ones; Chinese people will most likely use these terms when talking to you in informal situations.
It was a pain in my butt to learn this when I was a little kid. It's so confusing
fallingleaf, i kindly disagree on you saying 小姐 means youngest big sister. I think xiaojie should be only used for Ms. Something.
Excellent explanation on grandparents!
I usually say 小姐 to a young woman in like their 20s and early 30s. From mid-30s to maybe 50 I use 阿姨
This is very useful, thank you!
Are there special terms for in-laws (wife's mother, son's wife, brother's wife, husband's sister...) as well?
Thank you! And yes, those are covered in the video linked at the top of the post.
Hi, good explanation, but there is a typo in "If they are your aunt's kids....". It is "姑“ not "故". By the way, sometimes we ignore "姑“ and just call them "表X“ like we call the cousins on our mother's side. But on our father's side, there is a big difference that we only call our uncle's kids with "堂X“ instead of "表X“.
hi, beensoon, in modern days, we do not use 爹 any more, same as 娘 for mom. It is a little bit of weird to hear people call their dad and mom by using 爹 and 娘 nowadays. These two words are used frequently before the 90s.
old school. remeber these would be good enough: 爷爷, 奶奶, 爸爸妈妈, 儿子女儿
then try to figure out 妹妹, 小妹妹, 你妹, 哥哥, 我哥哥, 大哥, these are key words today...