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 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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Cynthia Dear, 31, lost her government contractor job and her side job working for a family business last spring and immediately applied for unemployment. Author: Heather Long, Anchorage Daily News, "The US government approved trillions in aid. Many hard-hit families have yet to receive it.," 7 Apr. 2021 Expect a signature mix of deliciousness, tradition, and irreverence from Brian Moy (also behind family business China Pearl) and executive chef Mike Stark., "8 things for diners to get excited about this spring," 6 Apr. 2021 Meatballs’s family sent virus statistics from the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to his tablet. New York Times, "When the Pandemic Came to Sullivan Prison," 6 Apr. 2021 Gladney, the No. 31 overall pick in last year's NFL draft, is facing a charge of assault/family violence, which is a third-degree felony under Texas law. Tom Schad, USA TODAY, "Vikings first-round cornerback Jeff Gladney arrested on assault charge," 6 Apr. 2021 The Swiss lender has been the hardest hit by the collapse late last month of Archegos, a U.S. family investment firm, suffering a major loss in its unit that services hedge funds. Margot Patrick, WSJ, "Credit Suisse Takes $4.7 Billion Hit on Archegos Meltdown," 6 Apr. 2021 The common council reviewed a concept plan for Ryan Road Duplexes, a condominium development with 26 units in 13 two-family attached dwellings at 12000 and 12204 W. Loomis Road, at its April 5 meeting. Erik S. Hanley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Developer proposes a new 26-unit ranch-style townhome duplex development in Franklin," 6 Apr. 2021 McRoberts is a lifelong resident of Havre de Grace and enjoys family, church and of course, sports. Randy Mcroberts,, "Harford high school baseball teams ready to play 2021 season," 6 Apr. 2021 Restaurants, music, movies, performing arts, family fun and more. Marc Bona, cleveland, "Hatfield’s Goode Grub to give free cooking demo," 6 Apr. 2021 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Commercial investors are favoring multi-family housing over office or retail properties during the pandemic, said Christine Espenshade, a vice chairman with Newmark, the brokerage firm that handled the sale of the two properties. Lorraine Mirabella,, "Kushner apartment company is selling 10 Baltimore-area properties," 2 Mar. 2021 As Fort Worth’s population grows, a group of City Council members are calling for a moratorium on some new apartment developments, citing concerns the city has become over-saturated with multi-family housing. Dallas News, "A moratorium on new apartments? Some Fort Worth city leaders think the city’s over-saturated," 4 Jan. 2021 Aldermen are set to vote at a regular council meeting Tuesday for a special use, preliminary plan and final plat for about an 11-acre development that includes multi-family rental housing. Steve Lord,, "Aurora City Council to vote on redevelopment plan at Fox Valley Mall," 23 Nov. 2020 Whether wild-minded or gritty and grim, Bakalova approaches her characters — comedic or dramatic — seriously, shepherding past women she's played through issues like inter-family relations, suicide, and eating disorders. Joey Nolfi,, "Borat Oscar nominee Maria Bakalova on sledgehammering sexism with moon blood and madness," 15 Mar. 2021 To apply, complete the Google Questionnaire and email us a letter of reference from a non-family member such as a teacher or employer, and up to three samples of your work. Marina Starleaf Riker, San Antonio Express-News, "Are you a high school student interested in journalism? Come learn with us," 9 Mar. 2021 The 12 projects shown as under construction in the city are: Dalcor Urban Residential, a multi-family development. Brandi Addison, Dallas News, "See what new construction projects are in your Allen neighborhood: hotel, dog park or tea shop?," 2 Dec. 2020 The latest state-of-the-art project highlights luxury living in multi-family apartments and will be sold both furnished and unfurnished. Chelsea Davis, Forbes, "CEO Celal Ozkan Expands The Magic City Skyline With Skygarden Miami," 10 Mar. 2021 In contrast to their more frequent opposition to direct spending programs, Republicans have offered support for the credit as a pro-family tax cut. Richard Rubin, WSJ, "Democrats Seek Temporary Expansion of Child Tax Credit, but Making It Permanent Is Real Goal," 3 Mar. 2021

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

9 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Family.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for family



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 family (audio) \ adjective

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Comments on family

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