In-laws once removed

The other day I started wondering there are terms to describe your relationship with your in-law’s relatives. For example, my sister’s husband is my brother-in-law, but is his sister some kind of in-law to me? She is my sister’s sister-in-law, but as far I can work out, there is no particular term to describe my remote connection to her – sister-in-law once removed, perhaps. Then there’s her husband and their children – are they any kind of in-laws to my sister or me?

Are specific terms for relationships in any of the languages you know?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, in-law is “anyone of a relationship not natural” and the earliest known use of the phrase in writing was in the form of brother-in-law. The law in question is Canon Law (church law), which defines degrees of relationship within which marriage is prohibited.

This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

15 Responses to In-laws once removed

  1. Yenlit says:

    Wikipedia does mention the term ‘cousin-in-law’ ie. the spouse of an individual’s cousin. But I’ve never heard it used in everyday conversation so it’s probably fairly uncommon?

  2. fiosachd says:

    One’s sibling’s spouse’s sibling is one’s *co-sibling-in-law*, as is one’s spouse’s sibling’s spouse; i.e. your sister’s husband’s (brother-in-law’s) sister is your co-sister-in-law.

  3. fiosachd says:

    The Russian for your sister’s husband’s sister (co-brother-in-law) is *невестка*, which also refers to one’s wife’s brother (brother-in-law) and a mother’s son’s wife (mother’s daughter-in-law), and the former is the latter’s *свекровь*. A father’s son’s wife (father’s daughter-in-law), on the other hand, is his *сноха*, and the former is the latter’s *свёкор*. A husband’s wife’s father (father-in-law) is his *тесть* and a husband’s wife’s mother (mother-in-law) is his *тёща*. A husband’s wife’s sister (sister-in-law) is his *свояченица* and a husband’s wife’s sister’s (sister-in-law’s) husband is his *свояк*. A wife’s husband’s brother is her *деверь*, and a husband’s wife’s brother is his *шурин*. One’s sister’s husband is one’s *зять*, as is both one’s spouse’s sister’s (sister-in-law’s) husband, and a parent’s daughter’s husband (son-in-law).

  4. TJ says:

    To begin with, as far as I know in the Arabic language there is no special term for the sister or brother of my sister’s husband to me, or to the sister or brother of my brother’s wife to me. However, I did face difficulty many times when I was translating some texts from Arabic into English, because some relations cannot be exactly translated into English in a simple form. For example, in Arabic we have a special term for the father’s brother, and a different one for the mother’s brother, but in English all goes to “Uncle”. Hence, I used to use “maternal uncle” and “paternal uncle” in some of my translation, although I’m not quite sure that this is right after all.

    We have a term maybe common in the gulf area only, and that is “`adeel” [عديل]. Roughly this is translated to “Equivalent man”. It is used for the man who marries the sister of my wife, and thus he is my “`adeel”, and vice versa of course, I’m his `adeel. The term is commonly used for males and never heard it used for females.

  5. Charles says:

    German offers some terms that are actually in use: Schwippschwager (or Schwiegerschwager) is the spouse of your brother/sister-in-law.

  6. prase says:

    @fiosachd: The Russian complexity is fascinating. However, невестка (a feminine noun) cannot denote “one’s wife’s brother”, as you have written.

    The Czech system is much simpler:

    švagr/švagrová is either one’s spouse’s brother/sister, or one’s sibling’s husband/wife (so this is a symmetric relation – if A is švagr of B, then B is švagr of A).

    tchán/tchyně is one’s spouse’s father/mother. Its inverse is zeť/snacha, i.e. one’s child’s husband/wife.

  7. Sandra says:

    What I suspected about French has been confirmed by this webpage, the words for brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s husband are the same: “beau-frère”.
    By the way, I think it is one of the poetic phrases in the French language: in-laws are beau/belle-père/frère/mère/sœur meaning literally “beautiful father/brother/mother/sister”.

  8. fiosachd says:

    @ prase: quite right; *one’s brother’s wife* (sister-in-law), not *one’s wife’s brother* (brother-in-law), is one’s *невестка*.

  9. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Hawaiian has an interesting way of describing siblings: IIRC, rather than direct equivalents of “brother” and “sister”, it’s “older sibling of the same gender”, “younger sibling of the same gender”, and “sibling of the other gender”.

  10. Qcumber says:

    In Tagalog (Philippines), you use the various parts of the leg to express how remote a relative stands from you. It was used for ascendants and descendants, but now, as far as I could observe, it is only used for cousins _pinsán_ [epicene].
    pinsán = (1st degree) cousin
    pinsán sa tuhód = cousin in the knee = 2nd degree cousin
    pinsán sa sákong = cousin in the heel = 3rd degree cousin
    pinsán sa talampákan = cousin in the sole = 4th degree cousin

    There are other curiosities in this language.
    Four terms are used for the people of the same generation: asáwa, bayáw [ba’jao], bilás and hípag. Only _bilás_ is a little difficult to explain. If someone knows this question well, I should like them to check my presentation of the system.
    Three families : A, B, and C
    FA = father A | MA = mother A | SA = son A | DA = daughter A | ditto for the other two families | Each family has one son and one daughter. | I shan’t deal with the generation of the parents.

    SA marries DB.
    SA is DB’s _asáwa_, and DB is SA’s _asáwa_. (asáwa = spouse [epicene])
    SA is SB’s _bayáw_, and SB is SA’s and DA’s _bayáw_ . (bayáw = brother-in-law)
    DA is SB’s and DB’s hípag, and DB is DA’s _hípag_. (hípag = sister-in-law)

    SB maries DC.
    SB is SC’s _báyaw_, and SC is SB’s _báyaw_.
    SC and DC are SA’s and DA’s _bilás_, and vice-versa. (bilás = indirect sibling-in-law [epicene])
    In other words, the _bilás_ link between families A and C is established through family B.

  11. joe mock says:

    What I think is interesting about the Tagalog case too, is that gender only shows up in the in-laws (and in mother and father, and in Spanish loans). asawa, anak, kapatid etc don’t distinguish.

  12. Lilian says:


    In spanish the brother of the brother/sister in law = “concuño”
    The sister of the brother/sister in law = “concuña”

    Their children will be “primos en segundo grado” of my children.

  13. b_jonas says:

    I for one think you could just call the sister of the husband of your sister just a “sister in law”. What would all those complicated phrases really gain you? Do you really need the precision? For the few cases when you do, it’s probably better to spell the relationship out in simpler terms anyway.

  14. Delia says:

    My sister’s mother in law lives in the country. When I visited her she called me “cuscra” which in Romania is the way the parents of husband and wife address each other (cuscra fem., cuscru masc.)I was quite unhappy because I thought she had mistaken me for my mother. I later found out that this is the way they call all second degree in-laws.

  15. Imbecilica says:

    Vietnamese has a seemingly complex kinship terminology system. Interestingly, many of these terms were loaned from Chinese, the rest are of indigenous or Austro-Asiatic origin. Although the sheer number of kinship and hierarchical terminology is quite large, some of these terms can replace several syllables needed to grasp the same meaning in languages like English.

    Take for example to word mợ [媽 – a better alternative is not yet encoded < (女+莫)]. Mợ has the single meaning of your maternal brother's wife regardless of whether the uncle is younger or older than your mother. Another example could be thím (嬸) which has the sole meaning of your paternal younger brother's wife. In the latter case, the uncle must be younger than your father, if not, the term bác (伯) is used for both your paternal older brother and his wife! Bác, however, is also used to address a middle aged man or a man typically slightly older than your father. If the man is younger than your father, he must be addressed as chú (注) instead. There are countless examples of terms differentiated by age or rank within a family.

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