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Talking about Your Family in German

You should know that talking at great length about your family is a far less popular pastime in Germany than in the United States, perhaps because Germans place a lot of value on privacy. Even so, you need to know how to talk about family, just in case the topic ever comes up.

In the United States, discussing family, die Familie (dee fâ-mee-lee-e), is a great way to get to know someone. Some people may even show off their photos of family members. Here are some ways to talk about your family to your German friends.

The following list includes most, if not all, of the members of your family tree. Even if you don’t have kids or in-laws, get familiar with these words so you can recognize them when discussing someone else’s family:

  • der Bruder (dêr brooh-der) (brother)

  • der Cousin (dêr kooh-zen) (male cousin)

  • die Cousine (dee kooh-zeen-e) (female cousin)

  • die Eltern (dee êl-tern) (parents)

  • die Frau (dee frou) (woman/wife)

  • die Geschwister (dee ge-shvis-ter) (siblings)

  • die Großeltern (dee grohs-êl-tern) (grandparents)

  • die Großmutter (dee grohs-moot-er) (grandmother)

  • der Großvater (dêr grohs-fah-ter) (grandfather)

  • der Junge (dêr yoong-e) (boy)

  • die Kinder (dee kin-der) (children, kids)

  • das Mädchen (dâs maid-Hên) (girl)

  • der Mann (dêr mân) (man/husband)

  • die Mutter (dee moot-er) (mother)

  • der Onkel (dêr on-kel) (uncle)

  • die Schwester (dee shvês-ter) (sister)

  • der Sohn (dêr zohn) (son)

  • die Tante (dee tân-te) (aunt)

  • die Tochter (dee toH-ter) (daughter)

  • der Vater (dêr fah-ter) (father)

Use the following words for the in-laws:

  • der Schwager (dêr shvah-ger) (brother-in-law)

  • die Schwägerin (dee shvai-ger-in) (sister-in-law)

  • die Schwiegereltern (dee shvee-ger-êl-tern) (parents-in-law)

  • die Schwiegermutter (dee shvee-ger-moot-er) (mother-in-law)

  • der Schwiegersohn (dêr shvee-ger-zohn) (son-in-law)

  • die Schwiegertochter (dee shvee-ger-toH-ter) (daughter-in-law)

  • der Schwiegervater (dêr shvee-ger-fah-ter) (father-in-law)

To express the term step-, you use the prefix Stief- with the name of the relative, like in this example: Stiefbruder (steef-brooh-der) (step-brother). The term for a half relative uses the prefix Halb-, so half-sister looks like this: Halbschwester (hâlp-shvês-ter).

German-speaking children use the following terms to talk about their parents and grandparents:

  • die Mama (dee -mâ) (mom)

  • die Mutti (dee moot-ee) (mommy)

  • die Oma (dee oh-mâ) (grandma)

  • der Opa (der oh-pâ) (grandpa)

  • der Papa (dêr -pâ) (dad)

  • der Vati (dêr -tee) (daddy)

When directly addressing their elders, children leave out the articles dee (dee) (the) and der (dêr) (the). For example, Mama! Komm her! (-mâ!! kom hêr!) (Mom! Come here!)

To say that you have a certain type of relative, simply use the following phrase:

Ich habe einen + masculine noun/eine + feminine noun/ein + neuter noun/(nothing before plurals). . . . (îH hah-be ayn-en/ayn-e/ayn. . . .) (I have a. . . .)

The correct form of the indefinite article einen (masculine)/eine (feminine)/ein (neuter) (ayn-en/ayn-e/ayn) (a) depends on both gender and case. In the preceding phrase, you’re using the accusative (direct object) case.

The feminine and the neuter indefinite articles happen to be the same in the nominative (subject) case and the accusative (direct object) case, so their spelling doesn’t change. The masculine indefinite article, however, takes a different form in the accusative. (Flip to Book III, Chapter 2 for more details on articles, gender, and case.)

So what do you do if you want to express that you don’t have any siblings, a dog, a house, or whatever it may be? In English, you would say, “I don’t have any siblings/a dog/a house.”

In German, you just use the negative, accusative form of the indefinite article einen/eine/ein, which you form by adding the letter k to the beginning of the word: keinen/keine/kein (kayn-en/kayn-e/kayn) (no). Look at the negative, accusative forms in the following sentences for some examples:

  • Masculine nouns: Masculine nouns, such as der Schwiegervater, use keinen: Ich habe keinen Schwiegervater. (iH hah-be kayn-en shvee-ger-fah-ter.) (I don’t have a father-in-law.)

  • Feminine nouns: Feminine nouns, such as die Familie, use keine: Ich habe keine große Familie. (iH hah-be kayn-e groh-se fâ-mi-lee-e.) (I don’t have a large family.)

  • Neuter nouns: Neuter nouns, such as das Haus, use kein: Ich habe kein Haus. (iH hah-be kayn house.) (I don’t have a house.)

  • Plural nouns: Nouns in their plural form or those that are always plural, like die Geschwister, use keine: Ich habe keine Geschwister. (iH hah-be kayn-e ge-shvis-ter.) (I don’t have any siblings.)

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