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Who’s Who in the Family

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Who’s Who in the Family

With 5 lessons under your belt, you know 50 Chinese words! Let's get going with some vocabulary "related" to Family. After this lesson you’ll be able to:

  • Address and introduce your family members
  • Use the question word 谁 (who)
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Flash Cards - Vocabulary
Complete Lesson (PDF)
Printable PDF version of this lesson

Who’s Who in the Family

Be sure to spend time studying the roots of these characters, their composition and making associations so you can easily remember them. Remember to use our printable flashcards - print and practice with them daily. To print your own flashcards click on the Flashcards link and print two sided onto business card template paper (note: print one page at a time so you can print front and back). Then simply snap the cards along the perforations and you instantly have a complete set of cards for this lesson.

妈妈 ( mā ma ): mother (informal)
Radicals: 女 (female) and 女 (female)
Sub-Word : 妈 - mother
妈 - mother
Phonetic: 马 (ma) and 马 (ma)
Components for 1st Character: 女 (female), 马 (horse)
Components for 2nd Character: 女 (female), 马 (horse)
妈妈 is the informal version of "mother". You can use this word to address your own mother or to talk about someone else's mother. Think of it more like the word Mom or Mommy. We'll learn the formal, less-used form in a later lesson.
Memorization Hint: A horse can be thought of as graceful, beautiful, and powerful. Combined with the female radical, we have one of the words for mother.

爸爸 ( bà ba ): father (informal)
Radicals: 父 (father) and 父 (father)
Sub-Word : 爸 - father
爸 - father
Phonetic: 巴 (bā) and 巴 (bā)
Components for 1st Character: 父 (father), 巴 (to hope, to desire)
Components for 2nd Character: 父 (father), 巴 (to hope, to desire)
As with the word for mother, this is also an informal version of "father". Think of it more like the word Dad or Daddy.
Memorization Hint: Imagine the top of the father radical as the whiskers of a mustache. Lots of "papas" have mustaches.

姐姐 ( jiě jie ): elder sister
Radicals: 女 (female) and 女 (female)
Sub-Word : 姐 - elder sister
姐 - elder sister
Phonetic: 且 (qie) and 且 (qie)
Components for 1st Character: 女 (female), 且 (also/moreover)
Components for 2nd Character: 女 (female), 且 (also/moreover)
Unlike English, there are 2 words to describe a female sibling in Chinese. Use this one when she's older than you are, and remember to use it when talking about someone else’s older sister as well.
Memorization Hint: Though China is changing these days, in the past, sons were considered more fortuitous than daughters. Keeping this in mind, combining the female radical (女) with a phonetic component (且), meaning "also/moreover", gives us the word for elder sister. Even though she’s older, she’s considered to be "in addition to" an older son.

哥哥 ( gē ge ): elder brother
Radicals: 口 (mouth) and 口 (mouth)
Sub-Word : 哥 - elder brother
哥 - elder brother
Components for 1st Character: 可 (may, can), 可 (may, can)
Components for 2nd Character: 可 (may, can), 可 (may, can)
Just like sister, there are two words for "brother". Be sure to use 哥哥 if your brother is older, or when talking about someone else’s older brother.
Memorization Hint: In ancient China, the oldest son bore the most responsibility to the family. He had power and possibility. Remember this and you'll have no problem realizing that 可 x 2 = elder brother!

妹妹 ( mèi mei ): younger sister
Radicals: 女 (female) and 女 (female)
Sub-Word : 妹 - younger sister
妹 - younger sister
Phonetic: 未 (wei) and 未 (wei)
Components for 1st Character: 女 (female), 未 (not yet)
Components for 2nd Character: 女 (female), 未 (not yet)
Use the word 妹妹 to describe your younger sister, or someone else's.
Memorization Hint: A female who has 'not yet' grown up is a younger sister.

弟弟 ( dì di ): younger brother
Radicals: 弓 (bow, arched) and 弓 (bow, arched)
Sub-Word : 弟 - younger brother
弟 - younger brother
Components for 1st Character: 丷 (eight), 弓 (bow)
Components for 2nd Character: 丷 (eight), 弓 (bow)
Use this word to talk about a younger brother.
Memorization Hint: Note that the radical for this character means to bow or be arched. A younger family member is humbled and has much to learn from his elders—thinking of a man bowing should help you remember this character.

谁 ( shéi ): who
Radical: 讠(speech)
Phonetic: 隹 (zhui)
Component: 讠(speech) and 隹 (short tailed bird)
谁 means who, simply enough.
Memorization Hint: Combining the speech radical (讠) with the short tailed bird component (隹) gives the idea of a talking bird. The talking bird is actually an owl saying "who... who..".

家 ( jiā ): family, home
Radical: 宀 (roof)
Component: 宀 (roof) and 豖 (pig)
家 can mean both family and the physical place where you live.
Memorization Hint: The roof radical (宀) with the radical for pig (豖) located under it represents a pig under a roof. To own a pig is very good, to have a pig under one’s roof is to surely make it a secure and happy home.

家人 ( jiā rén ): relative, family member
Radicals: 宀 (roof) and 人 (person)
Sub-Word : 家 - home
人 - person
Components for 1st Character: 宀 (roof) and 豖 (pig)
Components for 2nd Character: 人 (person)
This word refers specifically to people in your family. To indicate how many people are in your family, remember to use the measure word, 个. You can either say 我的家有五个人(My family has 5 people) or 我有五个家人 (I have 5 relatives).
Memorization Hint: If you can remember 家, this one should be pretty easy: Combine the character for family and person, it means family member, or relative.

爱人 ( ài rén ): husband, wife
Radicals: 爫 (claw) and 人 (person)
Sub-Word : 爱 - love
人 - person
Components for 1st Character: 爫 (claw), 冖 (cover) and 友 (friend)
Components for 2nd Character: 人 (person)
The person you love is your husband or wife.
Memorization Hint: Combining the components "claw" and "friend" shows the true nature of the ups and downs of love. Combine the character for love with "person" and you have the person you love, or husband/wife.


In China, people like to know a bit about your family when getting to know you. How many people are in your family - 你的家有几个人 - is normally asked.

Let's revisit numbers briefly. If a number is acting as a quantifier (telling how many), you should represent it with the Chinese character, rather than the Arabic number. The exception here is 零 (líng), or zero (use 没有 as explained in Lesson 5). For all other numbers, when acting as quantifiers, you'll need to write first the Chinese character, then the measure word, and finally the noun. So, if you have 5 people in your family, your answer would be: 我有五个家人. It is, in fact, uncommon to write or say: 我有5个家人.

Acquaintances may inquire about your parents' well-being: 你的爸爸妈妈好吗? Your response? Most likely 很好! Notice that we've omitted the word "and" here between the words "father" and "mother". Dropping the conjunction in the middle (你的爸爸妈妈好吗?) is more natural.

Someone may ask how many sisters you have by saying: 你有几个姐姐,几个妹妹? Remember that when using the question word 几 to ask "how many", it's not necessary to finish with 吗. To respond to questions similar to this, you can give more information by stringing phrases together: 我有三个哥哥, 三个弟弟, 一个姐姐. 我没有妹妹.

Likewise, when you become good friends with somebody who is your junior or senior, or if your family has a long-standing friendship with him or her, you can address them as "brother" or "sister". This is most naturally done by omitting the repetition. For example, if the person is a male who is older than you are, you can call them 哥. You can call a younger close friend 妹. However, if you and your friend are close in age, or there’s no sense of seniority in the relationship, then just their name will do.

Often in China to show a sense of closeness with a person in your life, you can preface your reference to them with the word for "old" (老 lǎo). 老哥 (old brother) or 老爸 (old dad), for example, are considered terms of endearment.


Asking Who

  • 谁 is considered a question word and should not be used with other question words like 吗 or 几.
  • When asking who someone is, place 谁 at the end of the sentence: 他是谁?(He is who?)
Vocabulary Review:
  1. 妈妈 mā ma mother (informal)
  2. 爸爸 bà ba father (informal)
  3. 姐姐 jiě jie elder sister
  4. 哥哥 gē ge elder brother
  5. 妹妹 mèi mei younger sister
  6. 弟弟 dì di younger brother
  7. 谁 shéi who
  8. 家 jiā family, home
  9. 家人 jiā rén relative, family member
  10. 爱人 ài rén husband, wife
Meanwhile, Pierce and XiaoYuan have continued on to discuss their families as they eat, and begin to get to know one another more intimately.
 Nĭ de jiā yǒu jǐ gè rén?
 How many people are in your family?
Xiao Yuan: 
 Wŏ de jiā yǒu sì gè rén.
 There are 4 people in my family.
 Nĭ yǒu jiě jie ma?
 Do you have an older sister?
Xiao Yuan: 
 没有, 我有一个哥哥, 一个妹妹.你有姐姐吗?
 Méi yŏu, wŏ yŏu yí gè gē ge, yí gè mèi mei. Nĭ yŏu jiĕ jie ma?
 No, I have an older brother and a younger sister. Do you have an older sister?
 我也没有姐姐.我有一个弟弟, 两个妹妹.你的哥哥有爱人吗?
 Wŏ yě méi yǒu jiě jie. Wŏ yǒu yí gè dì di, liǎng gè mèi mei. Nĭ de gē ge yǒu ài rén ma?
 I don’t have an older sister either. I have a younger brother and two younger sisters. Does your b
Xiao Yuan: 
 没有. (pulls out a photo) 这是我的家人.
 Méi yǒu. (pulls out a photo) Zhè shì wŏ de jiā rén.
 No. (pulls out a photo) This is my family.
 Sheí shì nĭ de bà ba?
 Who’s your father?
Xiao Yuan: 
 (pointing) 他是我的爸爸.她是我的妈妈.
 (pointing) Tā shì wŏ de bà ba. Tā shì wŏ de mā ma.
 (pointing) He’s my father. She’s my mother.
 Tā mén dōu shì nĭ de jiā rén ma?
 They’re all your family?
Xiao Yuan: 
 是, 他们都是!
 Shì, tā mén dōu shì!
 Yes, they all are!
Fill in the Blank:

你的________的孩子叫什么名字?(older brother)
Nĭ de ________ de hái zi jiào shén me míng zi?
What is your older brother’s child’s name?

谁是你的________? (family members)
Sheí shì nĭ de ________?
Who are your relatives?

我没有哥哥,没有________. (younger brother)
Wŏ méi yŏu gē ge, méi yŏu ________.
I don’t have older brothers (or) younger brothers.

那个男人是你的________吗? (father)
Nà ge nán rén shì nĭ de ________ ma?
Is that man your father?

你的爸爸________好吗? (mother)
Nĭ de bà ba ________ hǎo ma?
Are your father and mother well?

Nĭ de péng yŏu shì ____?
Who’s your friend?

那是我的________ ! (younger sister)
Nà shì wŏ de ________ !
That’s my younger sister!

他有5个________! (older sister)
Tā yŏu wǔ gè ________!
He has 5 older sisters!

Nĭ de ____ yŏu jĭ gè rén?
How many people are in your family? (family)

Ta shì bú shì nĭ de ________?
Is she your wife? (wife/husband)

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