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Talking about Family Members in Italian


In Italy you’ll often hear the saying La famiglia viene prima di tutto (family comes before everything). And boy, do we mean it! In Italy, la famiglia (family) isn’t just a concept; it’s the centerpiece of life. Picture lively gatherings during the feste comandate (major bank holidays) sprinkled with the occasional dash of drama, nonni (grandparents) turning into babysitting wizards so their kids can snag a moment of peace or get work done, and don’t forget all those cherished family recipes, guarded with love and tradition. 

It’s no surprise then that conversations about family here are as common as the ritual morning espresso. Whether you’re looking to impress your Italian sweetheart, trace the lineage of long-lost relatives, or simply want to dive into the heart of Italian culture, knowing the right terms for family members in Italian is crucial for discussing familial bonds with ease.

So, let’s explore the essential Italian family tree vocabulary, from the beloved nonni to distant ancestors. Stick around till the end for some fun Italian sayings about family that always manage to sneak into conversations!

Immediate family members in Italian

Let’s start with the key terms for those nearest to you in your family constellation:

English Italian  Notes
Parents I genitori you’ll often hear Italians refer to i miei (mine) or i tuoi (yours) when talking about parents, which is a shorter way of saying i miei genitori (my parents) or i tuoi genitori (your parents).
Father Il padre / Il papà Typically addressed with various affectionate nicknames such as pa, papi, papino, paparino, babbo, papo, papone
Mother La madre / La mamma Also typically addressed with sweet nicknames like , mammà, mami, mammina, mammetta
Son Il figlio
Daughter La figlia
Eldest child Il primogenito / La primogenita
Second-born Il secondogenito / La secondogenita
Only child Figlio unico / Figlia unica
Siblings Fratelli
Brother Il fratello
Older brother Il fratello maggiore Also the playful form fratellone
Younger brother Il fratellino
Sister La sorella
Older sister La sorella maggiore Also the playful form sorellona
Younger sister La sorellina
Twins I gemelli / Le gemelle
Husband Il marito You may also hear him affectionately referred to as maritino, a sweet diminutive form
Wife La moglie You may also hear her addressed with the affectionate diminutive mogliettina
Spouse Il coniuge
Family of young parents with small daugthers standing outside in spring nature.Family of young parents with small daugthers standing outside in spring nature.

Relatives in Italian 

Next up are the Italian family words to talk about the diverse array of parenti (relatives) that enrich our lives. You know the ones – grandparents with a never-ending supply of treats and wisdom, uncles who never fail to crack a joke, and so on!

Remember: while the word parenti may sound similar to parents in English, in Italian it specifically refers to relatives. Italians use genitori for parents.

English Italian  Notes
Grandparents I nonni Endearing variants include the diminutives nonnini and nonnetti
Grandfather Il nonno Also called with the diminutives nonnino or nonnetto
Grandmother La nonna Also called with the diminutives  nonnina or nonnetta
Great grandparents I bisnonni
Great grandfather Il bisnonno
Great grandmother La bisnonna
Grandchildren I nipoti Also with the sweet little nickname nipotini (little grandchildren)
Grandson Il nipote Also nipotino (little grandson)
Granddaughter La nipote Also nipotina (little granddaughter)
Great grandchildren I pronipoti
Great grandson Il pronipote
Great granddaughter La pronipote
Uncles Gli zii Also affectionately referred to as zietti (little uncles)
Uncle Lo zio Also called zietto (little uncle) or zione (big uncle)
Aunt La zia Also called zietta (little aunt) or ziona (big aunt)
Cousins I cugini Also referred to as cuginetti (little cousins)
Cousin Il cugino / La cugina Also with the diminutives cuginetto and cuginetta
Nephew Il nipote Also called nipotino (little nephew)
Niece La nipote Also called nipotina (little niece)

Note: when talking about nonni, you can specify whether they are from your father’s side or mother’s side by adding paterno (paternal) or materno (maternal) after the term. For example, nonni paterni for paternal grandparents, nonno materno for maternal grandfather, nonna paterna for paternal grandmother, etc.

Second note: as you may have noticed, the word nipote can mean grandchild, grandson, granddaughter, nephew, or niece. You can determine the gender by the article that precedes the word (e.g., la nipote for feminine and il nipote for masculine), but without additional context, it’s impossible to know whether someone is referring to a grandchild or a sibling’s child.

Shot of a family having a meal together at homeShot of a family having a meal together at home

In-laws in Italian 

Now let’s talk about the so-called parenti acquisiti, that is all those relatives who become part of our family through marriage. Unlike English, where you simply add ‘in-law’ at the end of the word to denote these relationships, in Italy we have specific names for each newly acquired family member:

English Italian  Notes
The in-laws I suoceri
Father-in-law Il suocero
Mother-in-law La suocera
Son-in-law Il genero
Daughter-in-law La nuora
Brother-in-law Il cognato Also cognatino (little brother-in-law) if you want to add a touch of endearment
Sister-in-law La cognata Also cognatina (little sister-in-law) to add a sweet tone
Shot of a family having a meal together at homeShot of a family having a meal together at home

Step family in Italian 

What if your parents divorced and got married to someone else? You can use the following terms total about the new members of the family:

English Italian  Notes
Stepfather Il patrigno
Stepmother La matrigna
Stepson Il figliastro
Stepdaughter La figliastra
Stepbrother Il fratellastro
Stepsister La sorellastra
Domestic partner Il convivente / La convivente You could also say il compagno / la compagna
Boyfriend Il fidanzato
Girlfriend La fidanzata

Note: traditionally, pejorative suffixes such as -igno, -igna, -astro, and -astra have been used to refer to step-family members in Italian. However, these terms can carry negative connotations, likely influenced by the way they’re shown in children’s tales. Think about la matrigna di Cenerentola (Cinderella’s stepmother) – not exactly the nicest character, right? So, to avoid accidentally sounding negative, it’s best to opt for phrases like il compagno di mia madre (my mother’s partner), la seconda moglie di mio padre (my father’s second wife), or i figli di mio padre (my father’s kids) when describing step-family relationships.

Portrait of happy interracial family sitting on couch at home together with mature mother breastfeeding baby, copy spacePortrait of happy interracial family sitting on couch at home together with mature mother breastfeeding baby, copy space

Talking about adoption and fostering in Italian

And now let’s focus on the key Italian vocabulary of adoption and fostering:

English Italian 
Adoptive family La famiglia adottiva
Adoptive parents I genitori adottivi
Adoptive father Il padre adottivo
Adoptive mother La madre adottiva
Biological parents I genitori biologici
Biological father Il padre biologico
Biological mother La madre biologica
Foster family La famiglia affidataria
Foster parents I genitori affidatari
Foster father Il padre affidatario
Foster mother La madre affidataria
Foster child Il bambino / La bambina in affidamento
Legal guardian Il tutore / La tutrice
Senior grandfather growing organic vegetables with family at bio farm. People healthy food conceptSenior grandfather growing organic vegetables with family at bio farm. People healthy food concept

Distant relatives in Italian

If you’re embarking on the journey of tracing your family lineage, here are some useful Italian words for discussing distant relatives:

English Italian 
Geneaology Genealogia
Family tree Albero genealogico
Direct line of descent Discendenza diretta
Generation Generazione
Ancestors Antenati
Distant relatives Lontani parenti
Great-great-grandparents Trisavolo / Trisavola
Relationship Parentela
Paternal Da parte di padre
Maternal Da parte di madre
happy family on the beachhappy family on the beach

Other useful family terms in Italian

Let’s wrap up this list of Italian family member vocabulary with some additional terms you may come across in everyday conversation:

English Italian  Notes
Single-parent family La famiglia monogenitoriale
Rainbow family La famiglia arcobaleno
Single parent Il genitore single
Single father Il padre single Also referred to as a ragazzo padre (literally, boy father) if he’s young
Single mother La madre single Also referred to as a ragazza madre (literally, girl mother) if she’s young
Surrogate mother La madre surrogata
Godfather Il padrino
Godmother La madrina
Separated Separato / Separata
Divorced Divorziato / Divorziata
Widower Vedovo
Widow Vedova
Large interracial family in casualwear interacting with each other while taking walk in autumn forest on weekendLarge interracial family in casualwear interacting with each other while taking walk in autumn forest on weekend

Useful phrases to talk about family in Italian

When talking about family members in Italian, the following phrases may come in handy:

  • Sei sposato/a? (Are you married?)
  • Sono sposato da tre anni (I’ve been married for three years)
  • Hai figli? (Do you have kids?)
  • Ho due bambini di 3 e 5 anni (I have two kids, one is 3 and the other is 5 years old)
  • Quanti siete in famiglia? (How many of you are in your family?)
  • Vengo da una famiglia numerosa, siamo in otto! (I come from a large family, there are eight of us)
  • Hai fratelli o sorelle? (Do you have any brothers or sisters?)
  • Tutto bene a casa? (Is everything good at home?)
  • Come stanno i tuoi? (How are your parents?)
  • Siamo una famiglia molto unita (We are a very close-knit family) 
  • I miei bisnonni erano originari di un piccolo paese in Calabria (My great-grandparents came from a small village in Calabria.)
Thanksgiving Day, Autumn feast. Happy family sitting at the table and celebrating holiday. Grandparents, mother, father and children. Traditional dinner.Thanksgiving Day, Autumn feast. Happy family sitting at the table and celebrating holiday. Grandparents, mother, father and children. Traditional dinner.

Family wisdom: some Italian proverbs and sayings

Here’s a sneak peak of popular family-related Italian sayings and idioms that express familial concepts and situations with sharp accuracy:

  • Tale padre, tale figlio (Like father, like son): a classic saying that’s frequently invoked to highlight the resemblance or similarity between fathers and their children, particularly when humorously pointing out some shared negative traits.
  • Buon sangue non mente (Good blood doesn’t lie): similarly to the previous one, this saying playfully celebrates the virtues of children, attributing their positive qualities to their parents.
  • Suocera e nuora, tempesta e gragnola (Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, storm and hail): this Italian proverb humorously captures the thunderous clashes and hailstones of disagreement that may occasionally arise between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, the two women who hold the most significant place in a man’s life.
  • Amor di madre, amore senza limiti (A mother’s love has no limits): This Italian saying beautifully encapsulates the eternal bond shared between a mother and her children, defying all barriers of time and space.
  • Parenti serpenti (Snake relatives): this proverb warns against the betrayals and irreparable fractures that often generate amidst the family. Its popularity is such that it has been immortalized in a beautiful Christmas movie by Monicelli

Click here for more heartwarming Italian quotes about family!



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