'Family' vs 'Families': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on November 4, 2023

‘Family’ vs ‘families’: What’s the difference? Sometimes determining the difference between words isn’t about learning definitions, but focusing on other grammatical rules. This article will dive into singular and plural forms and help you understand ‘family’ vs ‘families.’

In a hurry? Here’s a quick preview of what you’ll learn:

  • ‘Family’ is a noun that means a group of parents and children in a unit
  • ‘Families’ is a noun that means the plural of ‘family.’

What’s the Difference Between ‘Family’ vs ‘Families’?

The primary difference between these two words is the amount of things they describe, and this is because they are singular and plural forms. 

  • ‘Singular’ words only refer to one person, place, unit, or idea, which in this case is ‘family.’
    • Note that this does not mean just one person in the family but the ‘family’ unit as one entity. 
  • ‘Plural’ words refer to at least two or more people, places, units, or ideas, which in this case are ‘families.’
    • Again, this isn’t referring to the multiple individuals within the family but multiple sets of ‘families.’ 

So, following the rules of singular versus plural, ‘family’ represents one unit of relatives while ‘families’ represents multiple units of relatives who are typically not related to each other. 

  • For example, the Johnsons are one ‘family,’ but they often go on vacations with the Smiths, so both ‘families’ are traveling together. 

By the logic of the example above, most ‘families’ are separated by their last name, which can be a helpful way to identify who belongs to what ‘family.’ 

Now that you’ve seen how to compare the new terms let’s make sure we have a full understanding of what they mean individually. It's time to take a closer look at ‘family’ vs ‘families’. 

Definition of ‘Family’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘family’ is a noun that means:

  • A group of one or more parents and their children living together as a unit
    • “The family lived in a large house in the countryside.”
  • A group of people related to one another by blood or marriage
    • “She married into the family.”
  • The children of a person or couple
    • “She had sole responsibility over the family.”
  • (informal) a group of people united in criminal activity
    • “When you joined the mafia, you were part of the family.”
  • All the descendants of a common ancestor
    • “The house had been owned by the same family for generations.”
  • A group of related things
    • “All manuscripts that share this reading constitute a family.”
  • (biology) a principal taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below order, usually ending in -idae (zoology) or -aceae (botany)
    • “The plant was of the cabbage family.”
  • All languages derived from a particular early language are regarded as a group
    • “The Romance language family includes Spanish and French.”
  • (mathematics) a group of curves or surfaces obtained by varying the value of a constant in the equation generating them 

As an adjective, the word ‘family’ can also mean:

  • Designed to be suitable for children as well as adults 
    • “The publication was a family magazine.”

Synonyms of ‘Family’

  • Household 
  • Kin 
  • Clan 
  • Tribe 
  • Brood
  • Ancestry
  • Parentage
  • Pedigree
  • Lineage
  • Descendant
  • Bloodline
  • Offspring 
  • In-laws
  • Inheritance 

Antonyms of ‘Family’

  • Unrelated
  • Strangers
  • Foreigners
  • Rejects

Phrases with ‘Family’

  • Nuclear family
  • Family tree
  • Immediate family
  • Family name
  • Family crest
  • Family reunion
  • Adopted family
  • Found family
  • Family drama
  • Family dinner

Definition of ‘Families’: What Does it Mean?

According to the Dictionary, ‘families’ is a noun that means:

  • The plural form of ‘family,’ denoting two or more family units
    • “Many families showed up to the recital.”

It is very important to recognize that the term ‘families’ is different from the identical sounding ‘family’s’. The first refers to multiple family units being present at once, but the second is different. 

  • ‘Family’s’ is the possessive form of the word ‘family’ and is used to describe something that belongs to a singular family. For example, our ‘Family’s’ dog is named Spot. 

If you wanted to refer to something that belonged to multiple ‘families,’ you would have to combine both the plural form and the possessive form of the word. 

  • For example, she had copies of each of the families’ home addresses — meaning there were multiple copies from multiple families. 

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Family’ vs ‘Families’

Now that we’ve learned what these words mean let’s make sure we can do more than write about them. Being able to properly pronounce words is key to communication, so use the guides below to practice so you feel comfortable saying these words aloud

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘family’ as a guide:

  • ‘Fa-mih-lee’ (note that the ‘a’ is bright as in the word “air” and the ‘y’ is wide as in the word “see”) 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘families’ as a guide:

  • ‘Fa-mih-lee-s’ (do not be confused by the change from ‘y’ to ‘ies’ at the end of the word; the pronunciations are the same; you just add the ‘s’ at the end)

How to Use ‘Family’ vs ‘Families’ in a Sentence

 The sample sentences below will give you an idea of the different contexts in which these words can appear, so give them a read and then try writing some of your own. 

‘Family’ Example Sentences

  • She got along better with the cousins on her dad’s side of the family, so she preferred to spend the holidays with them. 
  • The parents wanted to find activities that their young children could enjoy, so they found a family museum with interactive exhibits. 
  • They didn’t quite know what breed their dog was, but his fearsome howl suggested that he was a member of the hound family
  • Their family had owned the restaurant for decades and were considered an integral part of the neighborhood’s history. 

‘Families’ Example Sentences

  • The Jackson and the Greens were always the families who faced off in the neighborhood's chili cooking final. 
  • Families would travel for miles just to come into town and see the circus performers every summer.
  • The television series was not suitable for families and included many violent scenes that could disturb young viewers. 
  • By getting married, the prince and princess would unite their families and bring harmony to the kingdoms that they ruled. 

‘Family’ vs ‘Families’ Example Sentences

  • Their family was new to town, so they hadn’t gotten to meet all the families in their neighborhood. 
  • Our family reunion was always huge and included dozens of little nuclear families that were all distantly related. 

Final Words on ‘Family’ vs ‘Families’

We don’t always think of differences within words to be confusing until we realize we aren’t confident using them on our own. But now you have the tools to tackle not only the singular and plural forms of ‘family’ but other words as well. Just keep in mind that plural is not the same as possessive. 

Need a quick review? Here’s a recap of what we covered:

  • ‘Family’ is a noun that refers to a unit of related parents and children, 
  • And ‘families’ is the plural form of the word ‘family,’ denoting multiple family units. 

Want to learn more grammar tricks that will make vocabulary more accessible? Be sure to check out other confusing word articles where we explain not only the differences between words but distinctions that can be found within ‘families’ of words as well.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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