What is a collective term for first cousins?

Everywhere I've looked it is emphasized that the correct term for "cousin" depends on age, sex and whether the cousin is on father's or mother's side. But that's for individual cousins. And the closer I've found to a collective term is 堂兄弟,堂姊妹,表兄弟,表姊妹, which still is four terms for different types of cousins, so it isn't exactly what I'm looking for.

So, how would you ask a question such as "how many cousins do you have?" in Chinese?

  • +1 Good question Jong – dusan Oct 14 '12 at 15:03

What is a collective term for first cousins?

There is no single official collective term for all cousins. You can use 堂表兄弟姐妹 which can be easily understood but it's not real word.

how would you ask a question such as "how many cousins do you have?" in Chinese?

People from different regions may have different idiomatic opinions, but what's certain is you'll have to mention 堂 and 表 separately and explicitly.

A relatively universal expression might be “你(一共)有多少个堂(兄弟姐妹)和表兄弟姐妹?”

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    “你有多少个兄弟姐妹,堂的和表的都算?” would be equivalent to asking how many siblings PLUS cousins do you have. – 杨以轩 Oct 15 '12 at 3:33
  • @QuestionOverflow Good point. I have updated my answer. Thanks for pointing out. – NS.X. Oct 15 '12 at 3:36

I would suggest asking separately: 你有多少个堂兄弟姐妹 and 你有多少个表兄弟姐妹, because China is a patrilineal society traditionally, relatives of father's side are more closer naturally.

Of course, things are changing rapidly in China nowadays, this might not be true to every individual any more.

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  • +1 I do agree that things are changing rapidly in China. Maybe due to the one child policy, I have a friend from China who can't make the distinction. – 杨以轩 Oct 14 '12 at 17:11

堂表兄妹 is the term you are looking for. As noted in the comments below, this is not a proper term, but is in use (Google search 273,000 results) and could be found in online dictionaries here and here.

兄妹 in a strict sense refers to elder brother and younger sister. But it could also be taken to mean siblings (abbreviation of 兄弟姐妹). To prove my point, please refer to this Baidu article 表兄妹结婚 which talks about marriage between cousins and this article on 堂兄妹. Again, I am not saying that it is a proper term, but it is understood that 兄妹, in a general sense, refers to 兄弟姐妹.

But as the Chinese tradition makes very clear distinction in relationships, it would be prudent to be clear by stating separately (堂兄妹,表兄妹) and do the Maths yourself. It doesn't hurt knowing a bit more ;)

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  • I am not sure if it's been used in some dialects, but I have never heard of this term in my region, or saw it from any written books. – Fivesheep Oct 14 '12 at 19:42
  • Chinese culture is very family oriented. the relations are always very clear.. better example is the word grandfather can be referred to father's father or mother's mother in English, while in Chinese, 爷爷 and 外公 are of different importance, 内外有别. (the previous statement is based on a traditional view point, not for the one child policy environment nowadays) – Fivesheep Oct 14 '12 at 19:50
  • I've only heard 兄妹 for its narrow meaning; never heard as an abbreviation for 兄弟姐妹. – NS.X. Oct 14 '12 at 22:39
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    @NS.X. and Fivesheep, I have updated my answer to include some references to justify what I have written. Personal experience differs, so I wouldn't be surprise if both of you disagree with me. – 杨以轩 Oct 15 '12 at 3:02
  • +1 for the references. Regardless I wouldn't recommend using this word this way as the possible confusion it may introduce. – NS.X. Oct 15 '12 at 3:29

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