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[fam-uh-lee, fam-lee]

noun, plural fam·i·lies.
    1. a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not: the traditional family.
    2. a social unit consisting of one or more adults together with the children they care for: a single-parent family.
  1. the children of one person or one couple collectively: We want a large family.
  2. the spouse and children of one person: We're taking the family on vacation next week.
  3. any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins: to marry into a socially prominent family.
  4. all those persons considered as descendants of a common progenitor.
  5. Chiefly British. approved lineage, especially noble, titled, famous, or wealthy ancestry: young men of family.
  6. a group of persons who form a household under one head, including parents, children, and servants.
  7. the staff, or body of assistants, of an official: the office family.
  8. a group of related things or people: the family of romantic poets; the halogen family of elements.
  9. a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals and, frequently, live together: Many hippie communes of the sixties regarded themselves as families.
  10. a group of products or product models made by the same manufacturer or producer.
  11. Biology. the usual major subdivision of an order or suborder in the classification of plants, animals, fungi, etc., usually consisting of several genera.
  12. Slang. a unit of the Mafia or Cosa Nostra operating in one area under a local leader.
  13. Linguistics. the largest category into which languages related by common origin can be classified with certainty: Indo-European, Sino-Tibetan, and Austronesian are the most widely spoken families of languages.Compare , .
  14. Mathematics.
    1. a given class of solutions of the same basic equation, differing from one another only by the different values assigned to the constants in the equation.
    2. a class of functions or the like defined by an expression containing a parameter.
    3. a set.

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  1. of, relating to, or characteristic of a family: a family trait.
  2. belonging to or used by a family: a family automobile; a family room.
  3. suitable or appropriate for adults and children: a family amusement park.
  4. not containing obscene language: a family newspaper.

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  1. in a/the family way, pregnant.

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Origin of family

1350–1400; Middle English familie < Latin familia a household, the slaves of a household, equivalent to famul(us) servant, slave + -ia

Related formsan·ti·fam·i·ly, adjectivein·ter·fam·i·ly, adjective

Usage note

See .

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for family

Contemporary Examples

  • Everywhere I go, ‘Hey Cartman, you must like Family Guy, right?’

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  • Saved from the public gallows, Weeks was virtually exiled from the city, and wound up in Mississippi, where he raised a family.

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  • A spokesman for Lewisham council said last year that it would be forced to act if the family returned to Britain.

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  • Three on-the-record stories from a family: a mother and her daughters who came from Phoenix.

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  • Ney said McDonnell needs to “keep a stiff lip” and stay in close contact with family members.

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Historical Examples

  • No one of our kindred must enter the family of Pericles as a slave.

  • While I have gathered foreign jewels, I have been ignorant of the gems in my own family.

  • The trouble is that we've just had to cut that fine old New York family off our list.

  • Here, perchance, may be found a clue in symbol to the family strife.

  • The home of the Birkenholt family was not one of the least delightful.

British Dictionary definitions for family


noun plural -lies
    1. a primary social group consisting of parents and their offspring, the principal function of which is provision for its members
    2. (as modifier)family quarrels; a family unit
  1. one's wife or husband and one's children
  2. one's children, as distinguished from one's husband or wife
  3. a group of persons related by blood; a group descended from a common ancestorCompare
  4. all the persons living together in one household
  5. any group of related things or beings, esp when scientifically categorized
  6. biology any of the taxonomic groups into which an order is divided and which contains one or more genera. Felidae (cat family) and Canidae (dog family) are two families of the order Carnivora
  7. ecology a group of organisms of the same species living together in a community
  8. a group of historically related languages assumed to derive from one original language
  9. mainly US an independent local group of the Mafia
  10. maths a group of curves or surfaces whose equations differ from a given equation only in the values assigned to one or more constants in each curvea family of concentric circles
  11. physics the isotopes, collectively, that comprise a radioactive series
  12. in the family way informal pregnant

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Word Origin

C15: from Latin familia a household, servants of the house, from famulus servant

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for family


early 15c., "servants of a household," from Latin familia "family servants, domestics collectively, the servants in a household," thus also "members of a household, the estate, property; the household, including relatives and servants," from famulus "servant," of unknown origin. The Latin word rarely appears in the sense "parents with their children," for which domus (see ) was used.

In English, sense of "collective body of persons who form one household under one head and one domestic government, including parents, children, and servants, and as sometimes used even lodgers or boarders" [Century Dictionary] is from 1540s. From 1660s as "parents with their children, whether they dwell together or not," also in a more general sense, "persons closely related by blood, including aunts, uncles, cousins;" and in the most general sense "those who descend from a common progenitor" (1580s). Meaning "those claiming descent from a common ancestor, a house, a lineage" is early 15c. Hence, "any group of things classed as kindred based on common distinguishing characteristics" (1620s); as a scientific classification, between genus and order, from 1753.

I have certainly known more men destroyed by the desire to have wife and child and to keep them in comfort than I have seen destroyed by drink and harlots. [William Butler Yeats, "Autobiography"]

Replaced Old English hiwscipe. As an adjective from c.1600; with the meaning "suitable for a family," by 1807. Family values first recorded 1966. Phrase in a family way "pregnant" is from 1796. Family circle is 1809; family man "man devoted to wife and children, man inclined to lead a domestic life" is 1856 (earlier it meant "thief," 1788, from family in a slang sense of "the fraternity of thieves").

Happy family an assemblage of animals of diverse habits and propensities living amicably, or at least quietly, together in one cage. [Century Dictionary, 1902]

The phrase is attested from 1844.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

family in Medicine


(făm′ə-lē, făm′lē) n.
  1. A group of blood relatives, especially parents and their children.
  2. A taxonomic category of related organisms ranking below an order and above a genus.

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The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

family in Science



  1. A group of organisms ranking above a genus and below an order. The names of families end in -ae, a plural ending in Latin. In the animal kingdom, family names end in -idae, as in Canidae (dogs and their kin), while those in the plant kingdom usually end in -aceae, as in Rosaceae (roses and their kin). See Table at .

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The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

family in Culture


In , the classification lower than an order and higher than a . Lions, tigers, cheetahs, and house cats belong to the same biological family. Human beings belong to the biological family of . (See .)

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with family


see in a family way; run in the blood (family).

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

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