I’m very close to my sister: words and phrases for talking about your family

by Liz Walter

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There is a saying that blood is thicker than water, which means that the bond we have with family members is stronger than with anyone else. Whether you agree with that or not, chatting about our families is something that most of us do quite often, so it isn’t surprising that words for family members and words to describe their personalities are often among the first things we learn in a new language.  In this post, I aim to build on that by presenting some less obvious words and phrases for talking about families.

We use the phrase immediate family to describe the closest members of our family – usually our parents, children, wife or husband. In some cases, especially if we live with them, it may include our siblings (brothers and sisters). Our extended family is all the people we are related to, for instance cousins, aunts, uncles and their wives, husbands, children, etc. We can also say whether we are related to a person by marriage or by blood (we sometimes use the phrase a blood relative/relation).

If you have a good relationship with a family member, you can say that you get on (well) (usually UK)/get along (well) (usually US) with them. If you want to emphasize that you understand them well and spend a lot of time with them or talking to them, you can use the word close:

My sister and I are close.

I’m very close to my sister.

The phrase love someone to bits (UK) or love someone dearly literally means to love someone very much, although we tend to follow it with the word but: I love her dearly, but she can be very annoying. The word doting describes a very loving parent, aunt, grandparent, etc., while a hands-on parent, grandparent, etc. is one who spends a lot of time with a child, both playing with them and looking after them.

On the other hand, if your relationship isn’t so good, you can say that you are not very/particularly close or that you don’t get on very well.  If you have argued with a family member and don’t see them any more, you can use the word estranged:

I’m estranged from my sister.

His estranged mother sent him a letter.

Arguments between brothers and sisters are often called sibling rivalry. In order to describe problems in a marriage, people often say that they are going through a bad/rough patch and to describe problems in the past, they say they’ve had their ups and downs.

We often talk about our parents in relation to the kind of upbringing we had, often using the phrasal verbs grow up or bring up:

I grew up in a working class household.

Our parents brought us up to be ambitious.

We also like to compare people within families. For instance, we say that a younger person takes after an older one if they are similar in some way. Or, to end with another saying, if we want to emphasize how similar a child is to one of their parents, we can say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

17 thoughts on “I’m very close to my sister: words and phrases for talking about your family

  1. I’m looking for a word to replace ‘adult children’ its so clumsy but I don’t like referring to my adult children as children or kids or ‘my girls’ anymore, it seems demeaning… and ‘daughters’ is sometimes a bit formal… any ideas?

    1. Robert Bradfield

      You could try “grown up” children or “major children”. Yet, it’s the word ‘children’ that actually trips you up.
      An adult is not expected to be called a child but, nevertheless, it is what it is. We need a new word in the dictionary to describe a major child – major son and major daughter. This is as opposed to ‘minor’.
      Yet you have a 21 year old major son and your mother has a 55 year old major son. Perhaps you can dabble with offspring. Off course, I’m not the guy to help you. I only popped in to borrow a cup of sugar.

      1. thanks Robert – you can keep the sugar for that attempt but I’ll have my cup back 🙂
        I guess the word child means two things – offspring and minor (a word that my Australian mind associates with music rather than youth) 🙂

  2. Pingback: I’m very close to my sister: words and phrases for talking about your family – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog | Editorial Words

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