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:

EnglishItalian Notes
ParentsI genitoriyou’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).
FatherIl padre / Il papàTypically addressed with various affectionate nicknames such as pa, papi, papino, paparino, babbo, papo, papone
MotherLa madre / La mammaAlso typically addressed with sweet nicknames like , mammà, mami, mammina, mammetta
SonIl figlio
DaughterLa figlia
Eldest childIl primogenito / La primogenita
Second-bornIl secondogenito / La secondogenita
Only childFiglio unico / Figlia unica
BrotherIl fratello
Older brotherIl fratello maggioreAlso the playful form fratellone
Younger brotherIl fratellino
SisterLa sorella
Older sisterLa sorella maggioreAlso the playful form sorellona
Younger sisterLa sorellina
TwinsI gemelli / Le gemelle
HusbandIl maritoYou may also hear him affectionately referred to as maritino, a sweet diminutive form
WifeLa moglieYou may also hear her addressed with the affectionate diminutive mogliettina
SpouseIl coniuge
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.

EnglishItalian Notes
GrandparentsI nonniEndearing variants include the diminutives nonnini and nonnetti
GrandfatherIl nonnoAlso called with the diminutives nonnino or nonnetto
GrandmotherLa nonnaAlso called with the diminutives  nonnina or nonnetta
Great grandparentsI bisnonni
Great grandfatherIl bisnonno
Great grandmotherLa bisnonna
GrandchildrenI nipotiAlso with the sweet little nickname nipotini (little grandchildren)
GrandsonIl nipoteAlso nipotino (little grandson)
GranddaughterLa nipoteAlso nipotina (little granddaughter)
Great grandchildrenI pronipoti
Great grandsonIl pronipote
Great granddaughterLa pronipote
UnclesGli ziiAlso affectionately referred to as zietti (little uncles)
UncleLo zioAlso called zietto (little uncle) or zione (big uncle)
AuntLa ziaAlso called zietta (little aunt) or ziona (big aunt)
CousinsI cuginiAlso referred to as cuginetti (little cousins)
CousinIl cugino / La cuginaAlso with the diminutives cuginetto and cuginetta
NephewIl nipoteAlso called nipotino (little nephew)
NieceLa nipoteAlso 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 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:

EnglishItalian Notes
The in-lawsI suoceri
Father-in-lawIl suocero
Mother-in-lawLa suocera
Son-in-lawIl genero
Daughter-in-lawLa nuora
Brother-in-lawIl cognatoAlso cognatino (little brother-in-law) if you want to add a touch of endearment
Sister-in-lawLa cognataAlso cognatina (little sister-in-law) to add a sweet tone
Shot 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:

EnglishItalian Notes
StepfatherIl patrigno
StepmotherLa matrigna
StepsonIl figliastro
StepdaughterLa figliastra
StepbrotherIl fratellastro
StepsisterLa sorellastra
Domestic partnerIl convivente / La conviventeYou could also say il compagno / la compagna
BoyfriendIl fidanzato
GirlfriendLa 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 space

Talking about adoption and fostering in Italian

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

Adoptive familyLa famiglia adottiva
Adoptive parentsI genitori adottivi
Adoptive fatherIl padre adottivo
Adoptive motherLa madre adottiva
Biological parentsI genitori biologici
Biological fatherIl padre biologico
Biological motherLa madre biologica
Foster familyLa famiglia affidataria
Foster parentsI genitori affidatari
Foster fatherIl padre affidatario
Foster motherLa madre affidataria
Foster childIl bambino / La bambina in affidamento
Legal guardianIl tutore / La tutrice
Senior 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:

Family treeAlbero genealogico
Direct line of descentDiscendenza diretta
Distant relativesLontani parenti
Great-great-grandparentsTrisavolo / Trisavola
PaternalDa parte di padre
MaternalDa parte di madre
happy 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:

EnglishItalian Notes
Single-parent familyLa famiglia monogenitoriale
Rainbow familyLa famiglia arcobaleno
Single parentIl genitore single
Single fatherIl padre singleAlso referred to as a ragazzo padre (literally, boy father) if he’s young
Single motherLa madre singleAlso referred to as a ragazza madre (literally, girl mother) if she’s young
Surrogate motherLa madre surrogata
GodfatherIl padrino
GodmotherLa madrina
SeparatedSeparato / Separata
DivorcedDivorziato / Divorziata
Large 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.

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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