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 An Eastern Market mainstay since 1967, Vivio's is still family owned and operated. Susan Selasky, Detroit Free Press, 13 May 2022 Many people have reached out to him looking for in-depth archives of boarding schools, family information or sources to incorporate in their K-12 classrooms., 13 May 2022 Steve Simon, a spokesman for the Universities at Shady Grove, said Blair’s family foundation donated $250,000 to launch the lab and an additional $145,000 to support its operations. Rebecca Tan, Washington Post, 13 May 2022 Though residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, Elsie is determined to find out more about its origins, and along the way, learns of a series of shocking family secrets. Sophie Dweck, Town & Country, 13 May 2022 Mary Doe's family filed a lawsuit when investigators began requesting medical records related to their daughter's treatment. Anahi Valenzuela, The Week, 13 May 2022 The 2006 transition aimed to provide more efficient support of training midshipmen and faculty, staff and family members at the Naval Academy. Baltimore Sun, 13 May 2022 Based on the Jane Austen novel, the Dashwood family finances are crippled after the death of their father. Chaise Sanders, Country Living, 13 May 2022 Mavieska also closed Bakehouse so workers could get their family affairs in order. Priscilla Totiyapungprasert, The Arizona Republic, 13 May 2022 Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective Some students criticized Black Lives Matter as an anti-family movement. Megan K. Stack, The New Yorker, 28 Apr. 2022 County data is shown where available and limited to counties with at least 1,000 multi-family rental units, according to the Census Bureau. Washington Post, 21 Apr. 2022 After all, the jump in new home construction was largely fueled by a rise in multi-family units. Will Daniel, Fortune, 20 Apr. 2022 Typically, multifamily housing is possible only in commercial or special districts and multi-family housing with more bedrooms is discouraged. Ginny Monk, Hartford Courant, 9 Apr. 2022 Around 40 firefighters responded to a fire at a two-story multi-family apartment building around 11:29 a.m. Saturday on the 400 block of North Avenue, Aurora Fire Department officials said in a news release. Megan Jones,, 13 Dec. 2021 As Stone explains, the pro-family spin on Hungary’s flagship program, CSOK, which provided cheap mortgages to couples having a third kid, was a public-relations cover for crony subsidies to the Hungarian construction industry. Nr Editors, National Review, 31 Mar. 2022 The company also announced that for the first time in its history key senior management positions will come to be fulfilled by non-family members in 2022. Anthony Demarco, Forbes, 29 Dec. 2021 But Hawley, who has cultivated a reputation as a hardline populist conservative with a particular emphasis on pro-family policies, remained committed to pressing the point. Michael Warren, CNN, 23 Mar. 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

15 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Family.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 May. 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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