My favorite short story in modern Mandarin, 2015 by 王小波, is basically a long, humorous digression about the author's 舅舅:


This word is translated as 'uncle.'

But why isn't the man a 叔叔? What's the difference in usage?

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    You will need a lesson on Chinese kinship: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_kinship Scroll to the bottom where the tables are and be prepared to have your mind boggled. Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 1:30
  • what if my father's the eldest, followed by 1 sister (姑姑),and then 3 brothers (叔叔)? do i call them 二叔 三叔 小叔, or? as i believe it sounds wrong to call 大叔? thank you..
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    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 22:05
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    – NS.X.
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4 Answers 4


Uncles of mother's side are called 舅舅, while uncles of father's side if he's older than your father you have to call him 伯, and 叔 for younger ones. If you have more than one 舅 or 叔 or 伯. You need to add some prefix to specified them, like 大舅 for the oldest brother of you mother, the following are 二舅, 三舅... For 叔叔 伯伯 they apply the same, except there is no 大叔, and the 叔's numbering should inherit from 伯s(e.g., 大伯,二伯,Your Father,then 三叔,四叔). There also have a word 大叔, but it's just a term to refer to some random older man...

For 叔叔, 伯伯 they can also refer to your parents' friends of their generation or your friends parents who are of same generation of your parents. Usually you won't use the term 舅舅 for this kind of acquaintances, but it happens when the guy is your mother's distance relatives, they might come from a same village with a same family name.

EDIT: 叔叔 is also used as a term of address for men (unrelated to you) who are roughly your father's age.

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    Strange. I don't know if it's regional usage or something, in your five brother example, I would call them: 大伯, 二伯, 父亲, then 四叔, 五叔. Also,幺叔 is preferred for the youngest one (i.e. 五叔 in this case).
    – fatjing
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 12:38
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    I strongly doubt you're wrong about the numbering. 没听说过排行第四却被叫做三叔的. Take the sitcom 《外来媳妇本地郎》for example (I watched one episode just now), 光宗耀祖 are four brothers, 阿宗's son calls 阿耀 "三叔" but not "二叔". Although the show is in cantonese, I think it's the same for mandarin. In general, the numbering should depend on the order a son was born, e.g. if a man was the third son, then his elder brother's children called him 三叔, his younger brother's children called him 三伯.
    – fatjing
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 14:25
  • In the north, we usually say 大大 to the men roughly older than your father. This may come from Manchu. Commented Feb 25, 2014 at 0:18
  • @fatjing: A little late to the party, but: Yes, 懷疑 can be translated as either "suspect" or "doubt", but in English, the construction you're using is never translated as "I strongly doubt"; "I strongly suspect" is used instead. "I strongly doubt that X" means "I firmly disbelieve X", indicating that (in this case) you firmly disbelieve that Fivesheep is wrong about the numbering, which I think is the opposite of what you actually mean. ¶ At any rate, my experience matches either your numbering: 大伯、二伯、父親、四叔、... Or else it (more rarely) follows the order of siblings rather than brothers.
    – Brian Tung
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 19:23

enter image description here

because it is traditional chinese

姊=姐 媽=妈 親=亲 婦=妇 兒=儿 孫=孙

I think the person above has given a wonderful answer.

This is the additional image which explains the relationship of chinese relatives

This image is from "baike.baidu.com". So there won`t be any copyright problem.

You can find 「舅」「叔」in this image ( both in the second line ), which can help you understand more about the difference.

姪子、姪女 is not very common, we usually use 侄子、侄女

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    Two issues: is it ok to include that image here, are there any copyright issues? Please include a bit of text explaining how this relates to the question; I think I flagged this as a non-answer by mistake because the preview doesn't show the image! Commented Feb 21, 2014 at 4:42

I call my mother's brothers "舅舅", and I call my father's brothers "叔叔"


Your "舅" is your mother's brother while your "叔" is your father's younger brother and "伯" is your father's elder brother.

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