Family in Japanese 家族

As I suggested in Grouping Topics for Easy Learning, one for the easiest things to learn is family. What’s great with vocabulary for family is that you can combine it with other topics to create sentences to make it easier to remember the words and grammar.

You can now learn and practice family vocabulary using the J-Talk Online Family Memrise Course!

Family かぞく 

The interesting thing about the word “family” かぞく is that it uses the kanji for “house” 家 (いえ on it’s own and か when combined with other kanji) and “tribe” 族 (ぞく), so your family is your “house tribe” 家族. 

Japanese family vocabulary for immediate family are divided by gender and age, and if they are your family or someone else’s family. 

The images below shows how this work:

Japanese Family Words
From Isinha101 from DeviantArt

Other Family Members in Japanese
From MintyNihongo

Other relatives are used for both yourself and other people’s families. 
きょうだい is used to describe “brothers” but it is also used generally for “siblings”. If you only had sisters you would say しまい. If you had a mix of brothers and sisters you would use きょうだい.

You may have noticed watching anime or other Japanese shows, that Japanese people refer to their family members directly the same way they refer to other people’s family. i.e A child will call her mother おかあさん, instead of はは, or their brother おにいさん instead of あに. This is because they are either talking to directly to the person (ie their mother), or to a friend about their mother. If they were talking to someone they didn’t know or who was higher status about their mother the correct way would be to say わたしのはは. If you were talking to some Japanese people about your family you would use はは、ちち、あね、etc. If you were talking to some Japanese people about someone else’s family you would use おかあさん、おとうさん、おねえさん、etc.

Counters – for People

なんにんですか? 何人ですか?- How many people (are there)?
なんめいさま? 何名様? – How many people (are there)? -> This is a formal phrase used by waitresses/waiters in restaurants. So it’s a good one to learn so you can recognize when they ask you. (The correct sentence would be なんめいさまですか or なんめいさまでいらっしゃいますか, but people working in cafes/restaurants shorten so it’s easier to say.)

counter for people in japanese chart
By Learn Japanese Adventure

1 – ひとり 一人
2 – ふたり 二人
3 – さんにん 三人
4 – よんにん 四人
5 – ごにん 五人
6 – ろくにん 六人
7 – しちにん 七人
8 – はちにん 八人
9 – きゅうにん 九人
10 – じゅうにん 十人

The counter for people uses the kanji for ひと 人 but with the counters it is pronounced/read as にん. Apart from people 1 and 2, every other counter for people is just number + にん.


います – To be/have (for living creatures only! Not including plants.)


In The Basics of Grammar I explained the simple sentence:

A basic sentence in Japanese WITHOUT a verb will always end in です (spelt “desu” BUT pronounced “dess”). Some people say this is like the verb “to be” but I don’t think that makes much sense for beginners, so I would suggest thinking of it more as a full stop.

In terms of family you can use these sentence pattern:

Person は わたし の Family です。- Person is my family.

  •  Scottはわたしのあにです。- Scott is my brother.

I also explained in the post how  is used between two nouns to describe something as something’s thing. I.e “My book” わたしのほん or “the cat’s ball” ねこのボール.

is used to mark a topic in a sentence, but emphasizes what comes after. So in the above sentence “family” is emphasized. I.e “this is a cat” これはねこです, in this situation “this” isn’t an important word, the “cat” is. Where as if you were saying “I love cats” you would use  ねこがすきです or “I have a cat” ねこがいます.

Verbs in a sentence will replace the です at the end of the sentence. Using the verb mentioned above います we can describe that we have family members, or how many people are in a room.

(わたしは) Person/Counter がいます。– I have a Person  or  There are Counter people.

Totoro family on bike
  •  あねがいます – I have an elder sister.
  •  さんにんがいます – There are 3 people. (This implies that you are talking about other people in a particular place. If you were to go to a restaurant and they asked how many people, it would be more natural to just say さんにんです. This is similar to English when a waitress asks “how many?” you reply “three”, rather than answering with “there are 3 people” which is what さんにんがいます means.)

Example Sentences

How is your wife? おくさんはいかがでしょうか?
(This is very formal, and great for making a good impression, especially if you replace おくさん with ごかぞく (it’s important to add ご to かぞく when you’re using a formal sentence like this))

How many siblings do you have? きょうだいはなんにんがいますか?

I have 2 sisters. しまいのふたりがいます。

I love my dad. わたしのちちがだいすきです。

Why don’t you try it yourself? After learning all the vocabulary write down in Japanese sentences to describe your family, or find a picture of someone else’s family and describe them. If you don’t already know about Lang-8 I recommend making an account and practice writing sentences in Japanese on there. Native Japanese speakers will correct your Japanese in exchange for you correcting their English.

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