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Russian Family: Guide on Talking about Relatives in Russian

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Did you know that the woman who gave birth the most times was Russian? She lived in the 18th century and was the wife of a peasant. She had sixty-nine kids! Sixteen pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets.

In the past, Russian people tried to have more kids because not all of them were able to survive infancy (rest assured that sixty-seven of the record-holder’s children survived). Since that difficult time, the Russian family has become the core value of many Russians, and has remained so for a long time.

That’s why it’s important to know how to talk about your family and ask about your Russian friend’s family. Once family backgrounds are exchanged, you’ll be able to understand each other much better!

And besides, it’s a nice and easy topic to master, even for beginners. ;-) To tackle this topic, family in Russian lessons like this one are essential.

Let’s dig in to our guide on family words in Russian and family in Russian culture!

Table of Contents

  1. Family in Russia: Russian Family Culture
  2. Family Members
  3. How to Talk about the Family
  4. Top Four Quotes and Famous Phrases about Family
  5. Exercise
  6. Conclusion: How RussianPod101 Can Help You Master Russian

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1. Family in Russia: Russian Family Culture

Russian Family Dinner

Before we go over the most basic Russian family words, here’s some background information on the family culture in Russia!

1- Age of Marriage

Family is a really important aspect of life for Russians. In the 20th century, the age for marriage was twenty-three years old for men and twenty years old for women. From 1990 to 1993, the average marriage age lowered about two-three years; this was dictated by government policy to make families stronger.

Being together without marriage was criticized. A woman who lived with a man outside of marriage was thought to be frivolous; she usually couldn’t make a career of her work. A married man could build his career more quickly, as he was considered reliable and serious.

That government policy has significantly influenced how people think about marriage. They think that marriage is a serious thing, and people should be married once for the whole lifetime. That’s how people of the 20th century taught their children to view marriage.

However, by 2019, the age for marriage has increased. Now, it’s usually twenty-seven years old for men and twenty-two to twenty-four years old for girls. In smaller towns, people tend to get married earlier than this age, and in bigger cities (e.g. Moscow and Saint Petersburg) they get married later.

2- Children

Russian Kid

When it comes to Russian family size, modern Russian families usually have two kids. People think that because there are two parents, they need to make two replacements.

However, one child is more common for families living in bigger cities. This is because children’s education costs much more and requires much more from the parents there.

Of course, there are families with more kids, but this is an exception to the rule. Most Russian people prefer giving a lot to one child, than giving a little to several children.

3- Elders

Russian Grandparents

Of course, Russian people have high respect for elders. For example, it’s good etiquette to stand up and offer a seat on public transport if an older person walks in.

Unfortunately, the level of respect in Russia can’t compare with that in Asian countries where respect is built into the culture itself. In Russia, modern people tend to think that age alone isn’t enough to gain respect. The person needs to be intelligent, kind, or have another outstanding quality that youngsters could learn from.

4- The Most Popular Russian Family Names

For a long time, Russian people didn’t have surnames. In documents, they had only their name, nickname, father’s job, nationality, place of birth, and occupation. That’s how the first surnames were made.

Столяров (Stolyarov) is the son of столяр (stolyar) meaning “carpenter,” and Андреев (Andreyev) is the son of Андрей (Andrey) meaning “Andrey” (boys’ name).

It’s hard to say how many family names there are in Russia. According to the last attempt to count, there are more than one-hundred-thousand surnames. Here are the top five most common surnames:

  • Иванов (Ivanov)
    • The son of Иван (Ivan)
    • “Ivan” (boys’ name)
  • Смирнов (Smirnov)
    • The adjective смирной (smirnoy) refers to a person who is calm, not proud, and not arrogant. This was considered one of the highest Christian virtues.
  • Кузнецов (Kuznetsov)
    • The son of кузнец (kuznets) meaning “blacksmith.”
  • Попов (Popov)
    • The son of поп (pop)
    • That’s what people unofficially called the Christian priest.
  • Васильев (Vasil’yev)
    • The son of Василий (Vasiliy)
    • “Vasiliy” (boys’ name).

2. Family Members

Family Words

Now let’s learn the Russian words for family members to increase your family in Russian vocabulary!

1- Mother

This is how to say “mother” in Russian: мама (mama). In English, it can be translated as “mom.” This is the word kids learn to use when they’re little.

There’s also a more formal word for “mother” in Russian language: мать (mat’). It’s used in formal writing or formal speeches.

Interesting fact. If someone who has always called his mother мама (mama) has suddenly referred to her as мать (mat’), he might be pissed at her at the moment, or he’s intentionally using a more formal style to talk about her.          

Also, Russian people just looooove to use suffixes to make Russian language-learners suffer to give extra meanings to the words, usually in terms of a quality or to describe closeness, especially between family members. In English, the same additional meanings can be expressed using diminutives.

The word мама (mama) is often used with suffixes to express love for her: мамочка (mamochka), мамуля (mamulya). Russians can both call the mother мамочка (mamochka) or мамуля (mamulya) directly, or refer to her like that in a conversation (though it feels way too showy when the second situation happens).

For example, a child can try to persuade his mother to buy him something he wants by using these affectionate suffixes:

  • Мамочка, мамочка, купи мне мороженое!
    Mamochka, mamochka, kupi mne morozhenoye!
    “Mommy, mommy, buy me ice cream!”

Interesting fact. “Mother Russia” in Russian is Матушка Россия (Matushka Rossiya). The word матушка (matushka) is formed with the suffix –ушк– (-ushk-) which expresses love and tenderness toward the mother-country.     

2- Father

The word “father” in Russian also has two translations. Usually, it’s папа (papa), and in formal situations it’s отец (otets).

Also, you might come across the translation батя (batya). This word is usually used by guys to talk about their fathers. The word is of Ukranian origin.

The suffix most often used with “father” words is –к– (-k-): папка (papka), батька (bat’ka). In these cases, the suffix gives a slightly contemptuous meaning.

3- Sister

“Sister” in Russian is сестра (sestra). It slightly resembles the English word, right? When we talk about our siblings, we usually tell whether they’re older or younger than us. Let’s learn how to do that in Russian:

  • Старшая сестра
    Starshaya sestra
    “Older sister”
  • Младшая сестра
    Mladshaya sestra
    “Younger sister”

In Russian, there’s no difference in how a male or female speaker would phrase this (as is the case in other languages, such as Korean).

The word сестра (sestra) is usually used without suffixes, but you may come across the word with a suffix in a children’s story book: сестричка (sestrichka).

You can also use сестричка (sestrichka) as an endearment term to refer to your sister. The suffix –ичк– (-ichk-) also expresses a good attitude toward your sister. Keep in mind that сестричка (sestrichka) nowadays is used only in books, and almost never in other situations.

4- Brother

“Brother” in Russian is брат (brat). Just like сестра (sestra), you can describe whether your brothers are older or younger.

  • Старший брат
    Starshiy brat
    “Elder brother”
  • Младший брат
    Mladshiy brat
    “Younger brother”

The word брат (brat) has been actively used to refer to one another in criminal groups since the 1990s. During this time, many suffixes became commonly used with this word:

  • Братан
    Bratan
    “Bro”
  • Братишка
    Bratishka
    “Little bro”

The suffix –ишк– (-ishk-) here shows that you undermine the person you’re calling with it.

Now, братан (bratan) is actively used by young people to seem “cooler,” especially between guys. Try to address your Russian friend by saying Привет, братан (Privet, bratan) which means “Hi, bro.” ;-)

By the way, young Russian guys often use бро (bro) or “bro” the same as it’s used in English..

5- Grandmother

This is probably one of the most popular Russian words. So, “grandmother “in Russian translation is бабушка (babushka).

If you’re interested in how Russian words are built, then it’ll be interesting for you to know that the word бабушка (babushka) already contains a suffix in it. The suffix –ушк– (-ushk-) doesn’t give any new quality, it just shows that we like the thing (or person) we’re talking about. The stem of the word is баба (baba) which meant “woman” in previous centuries.

Nowadays, if you use баба (baba) when talking to or about a woman, it will have a disparaging meaning. But it’s often used when we talk about a grandmother in Russian language, with an added name. For example: баба Света (baba Sveta), баба Надя (baba Nadya), or баба Маша (baba Masha).

6- Grandfather

The “grandfather” in Russian translation is дедушка (dedushka). Like бабушка (babushka), this word already contains the suffix –ушк– (-ushk-) which shows that we like the person we’re talking about. The stem here is дед (ded).

Interesting fact. Santa Claus in the Russian language is Дед Мороз (Ded Moroz). Дед (Ded) means “grandfather” and Мороз (Moroz) means “frost.”

7- Wife

“Wife” in Russian is жена (zhena). It has the stem жен– (zhen-), which is used in the word жениться (zhenit’sya) which means “to marry a girl.”

If you add the suffix –ушк– (-ushk-), you’ll get a more tender name for your wife: женушка (zhenushka).

The more formal word for “wife” in Russian translation is супруга (supruga). The ending –a (-a) here shows the sex of the person (female).

Of course, there are a lot of things husbands can call their wives. The most popular are:

  • Спутница жизни
    Sputnica zhizni
    “Life companion”

The above phrase shows that the husband has chosen his wife for his whole life.

  • Боевая подруга
    Boyevaya podruga
    “Combat friend”

This phrase basically means that the wife will be at her husband’s side in any situation that might occur during their life together.

8- Husband

“Husband” in Russian is муж (muzh). It has the same stem муж– (muzh-) as the word мужчина (muzhchina) which means “man.”

The more formal word for “husband” in Russian is супруг (suprug).

9- Daughter

Let’s learn how to say “daughter” in Russian: дочь (doch’). When people talk, they’re more likely to use the less formal version by adding the suffix –к– (-k-) to make дочка (dochka).

There are plenty of suffixes that mothers add to address their daughter in a more loving and tender way. These are the most commonly used ones:

  • Доченька (Dochen’ka)
  • Дочурка (Dochurka)
  • Доча (Docha)
    • Technically, there’s no suffix in this word. But it still has a loving, emotional ring to it.
  • Дочушка (Dochushka)
  • Дочечка (Dochechka)
  • Дочура (Dochura)

10- Son

“Son” in Russian is сын (syn). The most commonly used forms with suffixes to express love are:

  • Сынок (Synok)
    • This form is the most frequently used.
    • Сынок, помоги мне, пожалуйста (Synok, pomogi mne, pozhaluysta) or “Dear son, please, help me.”
  • Сынуля (Synulya)
    • The suffix –ул– (-ul-) is used to express love.
  • Сыночка (Synochka)
    • This form is usually used in a country speech.
  • Сынишка (Synishka)
    • This form shows that the son being addressed is smaller than the speaker.

11- Uncle and Aunt

“Uncle” in Russian is дядя (dyadya). “Aunt” in Russian is тётя (tyotya).

To make it clear whose relative is being talked about—mom’s or dad’s—Russians add со стороны матери (so storony materi) or со стороны отца (so storony otsa) after дядя (dyadya) or тётя (tyotya).

12- Cousin

“Cousin” (male) in Russian is двоюродный брат (dvoyurodnyy brat). “Cousin” (female) in Russian is двоюродная сестра (dvoyurodnaya sestra).

As you can see, to say “cousin,” Russians use the words брат (brat) meaning “brother” and сестра (sestra) meaning “sister.” The word двоюродный (dvoyurodnyy) shows that this brother or sister is second-tier.

You can indicate a third-tier relative by using the word троюродный (troyurodnyy), or a fourth-tier relative by using the word четвероюродный (chetveroyurodnyy), etc. That’s a smart way to show how close your relatives are to you.

13- Niece and Nephew

“Niece” in Russian is племянница (plemyannitsa). “Nephew” in Russian is племянник (plemyannik).

To say “great niece,” add the word внучатый (vnuchatyy), and you’ll get внучатая племянница (vnuchataya plemyannitsa).

“Great nephew” is внучатый племянник (vnuchatyy plemyannik).

14- Grandchildren

Grandparents call their “granddaughter” внучка (vnuchka), and their “grandson” внук (vnuk). Внук (vnuk) is often used with the suffix –ок (-ok) and sounds like внучок (vnuchok).

Also keep in mind that old people will often call younger people these words, even if they’re not related.

3. How to Talk about the Family

Parent Phrases

Okay, now let’s learn how to talk about family in Russian. Here are some family Russian phrases and sentences:

  • Родители (Roditeli) meaning “Parents.”

Interesting fact. Though there is a word for “grandparents”—прародители (praroditeli)—Russians prefer to use бабушка с дедушкой (babushka s dedushkoy) which means “grandmother and grandfather” if they have one grandmother and one grandfather. They use бабушки с дедушками (babushki s dedushkami) meaning “grandmothers and grandfathers” if they have more.

  • В моей семье 3 человека
    V moyey sem’ye tri cheloveka
    “There are three people in my family.”
  • У меня большая семья
    U menya bol’shaya sem’ya
    “I have a big family.”
  • У меня маленькая семья: я и мой кот
    U menya malen’kaya sem’ya: ya i moy kot
    “I have a small family: me and my cat.”
  • У меня есть папа, мама, брат и сестра
    U menya yest’ papa, mama, brat i sestra
    “I have a father, mother, brother, and sister.”
  • Моему брату 20 лет
    Moyemu bratu dvadtsat’ let
    “My brother is 20 years old.”
  • Моя сестра старше меня на 5 лет
    Moya sestra starshe menya na pyat’ let
    “My sister is five years older than me.”
  • Я очень люблю и уважаю своих родителей
    Ya ochen’ lyublyu i uvazhayu svoikh roditeley
    “I really love and respect my parents.”
  • Мой папа – учитель
    Moy papa – uchitel’
    “My father is a teacher.”
  • Моя мама – врач
    Moya mama – vrach
    “My mother is a doctor.”
  • Моя племянник – школьник
    Moy plemyannik – shkol’nik
    “My nephew is a pupil at school.”
  • Моя сестра – студентка
    Moya sestra – studentka
    “My sister is a student.”
  • Моя сестра учится в университете
    Moya sestra uchitsya v universitete
    “My sister studies in a university.”

Interesting fact. There’s an interesting Russian pronoun cвой (svoy) which is translated as “my,” “our,” “your,” “his,” “her,” and “their,” depending on which person in a sentence is performing the action. Have a look at the sentence above. The word cвой (svoy) there can be easily replaced with мой (moy) meaning “my.” But the natives prefer to use cвой (svoy). So…why?

The word cвой (svoy) has a stronger meaning of ownership. By using cвой (svoy), you emphasize that something belongs to the person who’s taking action. Please, keep in mind that there should be someone taking an action in a sentence, or else using this word would be a mistake.

For example, in the sentence В моей семье 3 человека (V moyey sem’ye tri cheloveka) which means “There are three people in my family,” we don’t see any person. There’s no “I/you/him/etc.,” so you can’t use cвой (svoy) here. If you use it, Russians won’t understand whose family you’re talking about.

For better understanding, note that the antonym of cвой (svoy) is чужой (chuzhoy) which means “someone else’s,” “not belonging to me/you/etc.”

4. Top Four Quotes and Famous Phrases about Family

Family Quotes

There are many phrases about family that go around. Here are the most famous ones:

  • В гостях хорошо, а дома лучше
    V gostyakh khorosho, a doma luchshe
    “There’s no place like home.”

This proverb is often used in books and even orally, especially by older people. The perfect situation to use this phrase would be when you come home from someone else’s place after having a good time.

  • Яблочко от яблони недалеко падает
    Yablochko ot yabloni nedaleko padayet
    “The apple doesn’t fall far from an apple tree.”

This proverb can be translated as “Like mother, like son.” It’s used to comment on someone else’s bad behavior when the speaker doesn’t like that person’s mother. For example, Tanya’s mother got pregnant without being married. When Tanya grew up, she also got pregnant without being married. The person who knows these facts, and doesn’t like this family, could express his contempt by saying Яблочко от яблони недалеко падает (Yablochko ot yabloni nedaleko padayet).

  • Я старый солдат и не знаю слов любви
    Ya staryy soldat i ne znayu slov lyubvi
    “I am an old soldier and I don’t know words of love.”

This is a quote from another famous Soviet film Здравствуйте, я ваша тётя (Zdravstvuyte, ya vasha tyotya) which translates to “Hello, I’m Your Aunt.” Watch the moment when this phrase is used. Note that Донна Роза (Donna Roza) is the name of the main hero. This phrase can be ironically used by a husband when his wife asks him to tell her more often that he loves her.

  • В семье не без дурака
    V sem’ye ne bez duraka
    “There is no family without a fool.”

When one family member does something bad, other family members can comment on the situation by saying this proverb. There’s a stronger version of this phrase: В семье не без урода (V sem’ye ne bez uroda) which means “There is no family without a freak.” It’s usually said when the speaker is really angry. Be very careful when using it.

4. Exercise

Now it’s time for practice! First, read the following example and then write a paragraph or two about your own family. If you want professional assistance, don’t hesitate to apply for our MyTeacher program for Russian-learners, where professional Russian tutors will help you nail this topic.

Okay, here’s the example:

Меня зовут Катя. Мне 16 лет. У меня большая семья. В ней шесть человек: мама, папа, сестра и два брата. Моя сестра – студент, учится на адвоката. Мои братья – еще школьники. Младший учится в шестом классе, а старший – в одиннадцатом. Я очень люблю свою семью!

Menya zovut Katya. Mne shestnadtsat’ let. U menya bol’shaya sem’ya. V ney shest’ chelovek: mama, papa, sestra i dva brata. Moya sestra – student, uchitsya na advokata. Moi brat’ya – eshchyo shkol’niki. Mladshiy uchitsya v shestom klasse, a starshiy – v odinnadtsatom. Ya ochen’ lyublyu svoyu sem’yu!

“My name is Katya. I’m 21 years old. I have a big family. I have six family members: mom, dad, sister, and two brothers. My sister is a student; she is studying to be a lawyer. My brothers are still at school. The younger one is in sixth grade, and the older one is in eleventh grade. I love my family a lot!”

Now, your turn! And don’t move to the next article until you finish this task.

To add to this paragraph of yourself, please read our article on how to introduce yourself in Russian. To handle numbers, read our article on numbers in Russian.

5. Conclusion: How RussianPod101 Can Help You Master Russian

In this article, we’ve learned the words to talk about Russian family and family members. Print our colorful PDF to keep all the new words in front of your eyes while you’re learning them. You can also refresh the vocabulary in your memory with our word list for family members.

And keep in mind that practice makes perfect. Try to use the words as much as you can to transfer them from short-term memory into long-term memory. You can do it!

If you’re searching for a professional Russian tutor, check out our MyTeacher program for Russian-learners. Our teachers are all native speakers with an impressive teaching background. They’ll make sure that you start talking in Russian very soon. ;-)

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