Definition of family in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈfamɪli/
Pronunciation: /ˈfam(ə)li/

noun (plural families)

1 [treated as singular or plural] A group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit: she moved in with her boyfriend’s family [as modifier]: the family home
More example sentences
  • The good thing about having a big family, all living together, is having the support, and not being lonely.
  • Shared parenting and family friendly work practices for both parents might even just keep more families together.
  • NEW safety rules which stopped many families from swimming together have been abandoned after protests from parents.
1.1A group of people related by blood or marriage: friends and family can provide support I could not turn him away, for he was family
More example sentences
  • You are asked to encourage as many of your friends and family to donate blood.
  • What matters most is that their close families and friends fully support their marriages.
  • Sincere sympathy is extended to all the families, relatives and friends of the deceased.
1.2The children of a person or couple being discussed: she has the sole responsibility for a large family
More example sentences
  • Every success in the future on this new venture to the couple and their family.
  • Several meals out have been lavishly enjoyed by the couple and their family at this stage!
  • The property is not suitable for large families so the target market when trying to sell it is that of the first-time buyers and couples with young families.
1.3 informal A local organizational unit of the Mafia or other large criminal group.
Example sentences
  • The Kahn family were a sort of mafia family, in charge of organized crime and such.
  • We're talking about New York, where you'd have Mafia families fighting each other.
  • Some of the mafia families have employed archaeologists to work directly for them, after making them an offer that they can't refuse.
2All the descendants of a common ancestor: the house has been owned by the same family for 300 years
More example sentences
  • Ann was a descendant of a family that could trace its ancestry back to the Norman Conquest.
  • The house is still in one piece and the descendants of the Jalmry family live here.
  • Thinking of Plato as semi-divine, alien to us, is not so startling in a world in which great families claimed descent from the gods.
2.1A group of peoples from a common stock.
Example sentences
  • There is no need to talk to understand the longing they feel for a new role in the European family of nations.
  • That is the way towards building a new Scotland, fit and ready to play its full part in the European family of nations.
  • The sentimentality has less to do with politics, and more with nationhood and the great family of Germany.
3A group of related things: all manuscripts that share this reading constitute a family
More example sentences
  • The news that GABA receptors constitute a family of proteins was music to drug companies' ears.
  • They constitute a large family that includes both parasitic and free-living varieties.
  • Luther dramatically succeeded and thereby inaugurated a new family of Protestant readings.
3.1 Biology A principal taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below order, usually ending in -idae (in zoology) or -aceae (in botany): the cabbage family
More example sentences
  • If one denies paraphyletic taxa, where do genera and families come from?
  • The simulated taxa can be seen as analogous to genera or families, the usual focus of diversity studies.
  • In addition, honeyeaters are known to forage on a range of plant families, genera and species at any one time, and do not rely on a single plant species for food.
taxonomic group, group, order, class, subclass, genus, species;
stock, strain, line
technical taxon, phylum
3.2All the languages ultimately derived from a particular early language, regarded as a group: the Austronesian language family
More example sentences
  • Austronesian languages, like other language families, are very different from Indo-European.
  • Hmong-Mien is one of the major language families spoken in southern China and Southeast Asia.
  • Language families and subfamilies are indicated on the branches of the tree.
3.3 Mathematics A group of curves or surfaces obtained by varying the value of a constant in the equation generating them.
Example sentences
  • Infinite families of cyclic Steiner triple systems and Room squares are constructed [in the papers].
  • Families of curves arise, for example, in the solutions to differential equations with a free parameter.
  • We have developed galleries of animations that can be used by instructors at various levels to enhance the idea of families of curves and graphs and how the members of the family change when certain parameters are varied.


Designed to be suitable for children as well as adults: a family newspaper
More example sentences
  • At first sight this focus on the home might seem to impose a general standard of what is suitable for family viewing.
  • It is a family drama designed for an early evening prime-time slot.
  • Even Rod has now been moved to join in with a startling attack on Ms Mone, which does not bear repeating in a family newspaper.



in the family way

informal Pregnant: he would disgrace them by getting a girl in the family way
More example sentences
  • What are you going to do if she gets in the family way?
  • What seems possible is that Summer, having got Bridget pregnant, fell in with the precociously clever Jenny Jones and put her in the family way as well.
  • It's as simple as this: You don't walk out on a girl who's in the family way.

sell (or sell off) the family silver

Part with a valuable resource for immediate advantage: the suggestion that privatization is selling off the family silver
More example sentences
  • But at a time when business values are falling, stakeholders tend not to take kindly to selling the family silver at a knock-down price.
  • When the sale was announced it was seen as one of the most important strategic decisions in the group's history, likened to selling the family silver.
  • While it will be running hard to keep up with its younger peers in the telecoms sector, it won't be selling the family silver to do so.


Late Middle English (in sense 2 of the noun; also denoting the servants of a household or the retinue of a nobleman): from Latin familia 'household servants, family', from famulus 'servant'.

  • A person's family was originally the servants of their household. It then came to be ‘all the people who live in one house, including parents, children, and servants’, before it settled on its modern meaning. The word is from Latin famulus ‘household servant’, as is familiar (Middle English). The former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan made a speech in 1985 where he opposed the government's policy of privatizing state assets and supposedly accused them of selling the family silver. What he actually said was: ‘First of all the Georgian silver goes, and then all that nice furniture that used to be in the saloon. Then the Canalettos go.’ Family is also used, chiefly in the US, as a slang term for the members of a local unit of the Mafia; a use popularized in the 1972 film The Godfather by Francis Ford Coppola. The phrase in the family way meaning ‘pregnant’ from the late 18th century, was in use earlier meaning ‘in a domestic way, in a domestic setting’.

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: fam¦ily

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.