Teachers' blog


【Family Adjectives】

(Contributed by Ben)
There are a lot of words related to family members. Some of them are linked together, and a couple are confusingly similar.
First of all, paternal and maternal. ‘Maternal’ means like a mother. ‘Paternal’ means like a father. As an alternative, you can say ‘motherly’ and ‘fatherly’. ‘Paternal’ is spelt similarly to ‘parental’, which just means like a parent.
A couple of nouns linked to ‘paternal’ and ‘maternal’ are ‘matron’ and ‘patron’. These don’t mean mother and father, but they are linked to those ideas. A matron is a chief nurse. A lot of old-fashioned schools have a nurse called ‘Matron’. Traditionally she was the only woman in the staff, and was viewed as a mother to the pupils.
‘Patron’ used to mean ‘father’, but now it means a sort of ‘customer’, or someone who donates money. A ‘patron of the arts’ is a wealthy person who pays artists to make art. Many great works of art were commissioned by patrons of the arts. If you have too much money, perhaps you, too could be an artist’s patron! This word is also linked to another, ‘patronise’. To patronise a shop is to be a patron, and shop there. To patronise a person is to treat them like a child, in a slightly insulting way. A few phrases related to these words: ‘maternal advice’, ‘fatherly love’, ‘maternal leave’ (vacation for new mothers) ‘parental guidance’ (shortened to ‘PG’, this is an age-rating for movies in the UK. Children can watch if if their parents say so).
There’s also the word ‘avuncular’. This means ‘like an uncle’. Someone like Father Christmas is avuncular, because he’s a non-threatening friend-of-the-family who treats you well. For some reason, there isn’t a good word meaning ‘like an aunt’. (There is actually a word, ‘materteral’, but nobody ever, ever uses this word. Everybody knows ‘avuncular’ but nobody knows its female equivalent).
That leaves the language around sisters and brothers. ‘Brotherly’ and ‘sisterly’ are the most common adjective. ‘Sibling rivalry’ is when brothers and sisters compete against each other. More old-fashioned words for ‘brotherly’ and ‘sisterly’ are ‘fraternal’ and ‘sororal’. These are quite uncommon to hear, but American universities still use them. A ‘sorority’ is a formal group of sisters at a college who act like sisters to each other. A ‘fraternity’ is the same for boys.
One more word ‘familial’, meaning to do with families. It’s quite similar to ‘familiar’. Most people just use ‘family’ instead, as in ‘family guidance.

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