fam·​i·​ly | \ ˈfam-lē How to pronounce family (audio) , ˈfa-mə- \
plural families

Definition of family

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1a : the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children also : any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family a single-parent family
b : spouse and children want to spend more time with my family
2 : a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head : household
3a : a group of persons of common ancestry : clan
b : a people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock
4a : a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation : fellowship
b : the staff of a high official (such as the President)
5 : a group of things related by common characteristics: such as
a : a closely related series of elements or chemical compounds
b : a group of soils with similar chemical and physical properties (such as texture, pH, and mineral content) that comprise a category ranking above the series and below the subgroup in soil classification
c : a group of related languages descended from a single ancestral language
6a : a group of related plants or animals forming a category ranking above a genus and below an order and usually comprising several to many genera
b in livestock breeding
(1) : the descendants or line of a particular individual especially of some outstanding female
(2) : an identifiable strain within a breed
7 : a set of curves or surfaces whose equations differ only in parameters
8 : a unit of a crime syndicate (such as the Mafia) operating within a geographical area



Definition of family (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : of or relating to a family (see family entry 1)
2 : designed or suitable for both children and adults family restaurants family movies

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Other Words from family


familyhood \ ˈfam-​lē-​ˌhu̇d How to pronounce familyhood (audio) , ˈfa-​mə-​ \ noun

What is a family?

The answer to the question “what does family mean?” is both difficult to answer and highly subjective. The word has shifted its meaning considerably since it entered our language, currently contains many different senses, and in at least one of these senses may signify different things to different people. The earliest uses of family denoted “a group of persons in the service of an individual,” a sense that is now archaic. Although this early meaning may seem far afield from the way that most of us use family today, it is not surprising when we consider that the word comes from the Latin familia, which meant “household,” a designation that included both servants and relatives.

In modern use family may refer to one of a number of different groups of people or things collectively, such as chemical compounds, related languages, plants and animals, and people who may or may not share ancestry. Family is often encountered in legal use, but even within the jargon of the law it is not restricted to a single meaning. In many legal contexts family denotes “individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption,” but in others the definition may be somewhat broader, encompassing groups of individuals not related by these things.

Examples of family in a Sentence

Noun The disappearance of decent-paying low-skilled jobs over the last 30 years makes it virtually impossible for a young high-school dropout to successfully support a family on a legitimate income. — Karen De Witt, Essence, August 1994 A defendant in a racketeering trial was described yesterday as a Mafia captain who had carried out a plot to kill three rivals in the Bonanno crime family. — Arnold H. Lubasch, New York Times, 30 Apr. 1987 Nobody ever came to the farm—through "the big gate," a mile off on the pike—except kin and a family named Rawls: a widow with two daughters and a son, my only playmate. — Robert Penn Warren, Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back, 1980 It was quite an understood thing in the family that Lord Fawn must marry money. — Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds, 1871 There were a lot of families at the circus. The show is fun for the whole family. a death in the family There are several doctors on his mother's side of the family. She wants to spend more time with her family. After his father's death he became the head of the family. She's a friend of the family. He spent a quiet evening at home with family. trying to find a balance between work and family He's devoted to his wife and family.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Meals range from family size to ones perfect for a couple. Susan Selasky, Detroit Free Press, "Dozens of restaurants are offering Thanksgiving meals to-go," 21 Nov. 2020 On the bright side, that means no argument about jelled versus whole berry — an argument that ruined many a family gathering over the centuries. Paul Cappiello, The Courier-Journal, "Why you wouldn't find any pumpkin pie, potatoes or cranberries at the first Thanksgiving," 21 Nov. 2020 Reed's family disputes IMPD's account of what happened. Vic Ryckaert, The Indianapolis Star, "ISP says Dreasjon Reed was involved in previous drive-bys, but provides few details," 21 Nov. 2020 The program will also create an opportunity for the restaurant's staff to enjoy the family atmosphere of cooking for seniors in the community. Cathy Kozlowicz, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Germantown's Precinct Tap & Table plans to cook three-course meals for homebound seniors in December. Here's how to help.," 21 Nov. 2020 With lots of love and consistency, this handsome survivor is sure to be a great companion for his future forever family. The Arizona Republic, "Koda and more pets up for adoption in Phoenix-area shelters this week," 21 Nov. 2020 Topics include: communication techniques, caregiver support, benefits of activities, family dynamics and safety issues., "Community news for the Glastonbury edition," 20 Nov. 2020 Nemours Children’s Hospital has launched the Disney Children’s Hospitals Program, adding magic wall art and digital displays with Disney characters in several areas, including the surgical waiting rooms and family lounges. Naseem S. Miller,, "Orlando Health breaks ground on Jewett Orthopedic Hospital," 20 Nov. 2020 In March, there were around 2,900 misdemeanor family violence cases pending in Bexar County. Emilie Eaton,, "Five additional judges to begin handling family violence cases in Bexar County — the latest effort to address a rising backlog," 20 Nov. 2020 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective The multi-family housing company Greystar is handling the housing project, while the Belmont Village company is doing the senior facility. Barbara Henry, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Senior living, low-income housing proposed for Escondido lagoon area," 20 Nov. 2020 For the first time in the Louis-Dreyfus Company’s 169-year history, the business has sold a significant stake to a non-family shareholder. Claire Zillman, Fortune, "How a 54-year-old started her own bank," 12 Nov. 2020 As part of the sale agreement, the Plano Housing Authority will partner with MVAH Partners and Auxano Development to build a multi-family development oriented toward the Parker Road DART rail station. Teri Webster, Dallas News, "Affordable housing complex to be built near Parker Road DART Station after Plano sells land," 2 Nov. 2020 No Christian, pro-family, pro-life government should act in this fashion. Dan Mclaughlin, National Review, "I Was ‘Never Trump’ in 2016. I’m Still a Conservative. Here’s How I’m Voting," 2 Nov. 2020 Those who donated to TownshipFuture in latest filings include three high-profile developers who are involved in multi-family residential projects in the Village of Creekside Park. Jeff Forward, Chron, "Woodlands PACs attract donations from developers, building industry," 29 Oct. 2020 Fees would also increase for development of multi-family homes, and commercial and industrial buildings. Joe Tash, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Escondido pursues scaled-back plan to increase development fees," 25 Oct. 2020 Thanksgiving parade is virtual this year, and large multi-family gatherings are discouraged. Emily Vanschmus, Better Homes & Gardens, "8 Festive Thanksgiving Face Masks to Wear to the Big Feast," 22 Oct. 2020 Due to a lack of a quorum, the Oak Park historic preservation commission will have to delay its review of a multi-family development proposed for Lake Street near the village’s Hemingway district. Steve Schering,, "Six-story, 84-unit building proposed for Oak Park historic district, but procedure delays review of plans," 2 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'family.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of family


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2


1602, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for family

Noun and Adjective

Middle English familie, from Latin familia household (including servants as well as kin of the householder), from famulus servant

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Time Traveler for family

Time Traveler

The first known use of family was in the 15th century

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Statistics for family

Last Updated

22 Nov 2020

Cite this Entry

“Family.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Nov. 2020.

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More Definitions for family


How to pronounce family (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of family

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a group of people who are related to each other
: a person's children
: a group of related people including people who lived in the past



English Language Learners Definition of family (Entry 2 of 2)

: of or relating to a family
: designed or suitable for both children and adults


fam·​i·​ly | \ ˈfa-mə-lē How to pronounce family (audio) , ˈfam-lē \
plural families

Kids Definition of family

1 : a social group made up of parents and their children
2 : a group of people who come from the same ancestor You resemble your mother's side of the family.
3 : a group of people living together : household
4 : a group of things sharing certain characteristics a family of languages
5 : a group of related living things (as plants or animals) that ranks above the genus and below the order in scientific classification Domestic cats, lions, and tigers are some of the members of the cat family.


fam·​i·​ly | \ ˈfam-(ə-)lē How to pronounce family (audio) \
plural families

Medical Definition of family

1 : the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children also : any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family a single-parent family
2 : a group of related plants or animals forming a category ranking above a genus and below an order and usually comprising several to many genera

Other Words from family

family adjective

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fam·​i·​ly | \ ˈfam-lē, ˈfa-mə- How to pronounce family (audio) \
plural families

Legal Definition of family

1 : a group of individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption
2 : a group of usually related individuals who live together under common household authority and especially who have reciprocal duties to each other

Note: The interpretation of the word family in a law context depends upon the area of the law concerned (as contract or zoning law), the purpose of the document (as a statute or contract) in which it is used, and the facts of the case. Often for zoning purposes, the occupants of a group home are considered a family if the organization is like that of a family or if the home is going to be a permanent rather than a transitional residence for the occupants.

Other Words from family

familial \ fə-​ˈmil-​yəl How to pronounce familial (audio) \ adjective

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