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

Other Words from family


familyhood \ ˈfam-​lē-​ˌhu̇d How to pronounce family (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. See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The department also authorized family members of U.S. government personnel to leave the island in anticipation of the storm. Elizabeth Wolfe, CNN, 21 Sep. 2022 No media or other members of the public, including family members of Lane or Floyd, were allowed to attend the hearing at the Hennepin County Government Center. Janelle Griffith, NBC News, 21 Sep. 2022 In the months that followed Tillman’s death, her family members reeled and grieved. Theresa Vargas, Washington Post, 21 Sep. 2022 Wills died Monday night at home in Sedona, Arizona, the team said Tuesday after being informed by family members. Beth Harris, ajc, 20 Sep. 2022 Wills died Monday night at home in Sedona, Arizona, the team said after being informed by family members. Steve Gardner, USA TODAY, 20 Sep. 2022 Lyric, 14, and Clark, 18, were last seen by family members on Friday, according to authorities. Michael Ruiz, Fox News, 20 Sep. 2022 Oneonta police Chief Charles Clifton said family members of the toddler found the child at 3:06 p.m. Carol Robinson |, al, 20 Sep. 2022 Several friends and family members, including his mother, tried to persuade Amavizca-Murúa to become a doctor. Selene Riverastaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 20 Sep. 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Sandy Springs, Fulton County and now Cobb County are seeking to crack down on multi-family housing conditions partially in response to the AJC’s investigation. Taylor Croft, ajc, 2 Sep. 2022 Market-rate, multi-family housing will include rental units ranging from studios to three bedrooms. San Diego Union-Tribune, 26 Aug. 2022 Starting in 2023, work will begin on a project to convert the hospital building into attainable multi-family housing. al, 28 July 2022 Both the 319 multi-family units and the 214 senior housing units are in the parking lot and some of the area where the Sears store used to be. Steve Lord, Chicago Tribune, 20 July 2022 Perhaps an additional, 3% of new developments could bring additional types of multi-family housing. Maritza Dominguez, The Arizona Republic, 5 July 2022 The suit claims that Woodbridge has rejected multiple attempts for zoning changes that would facilitate more multi-family housing over the span of decades. Hartford Courant, 30 Aug. 2022 The NRP Group can tout multiple years of double-digit growth and a long list of awards for developing affordable multi-family housing nationwide. Brenda Cain, cleveland, 26 June 2022 In its draft plan to meet California’s housing requirement, Atherton — home to roughly 7,000 residents, many of them extremely wealthy — had proposed rezoning certain properties to allow for construction of multi-family housing. Danielle Echeverria, San Francisco Chronicle, 5 Aug. 2022 See More

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.

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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Dictionary Entries Near family

famille verte


family allowance

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Statistics for family

Last Updated

24 Sep 2022

Cite this Entry

“Family.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Sep. 2022.

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More Definitions for family


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


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 family (audio) \ adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on family

Nglish: Translation of family for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of family for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about family


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