• 2-minute read
  • 30th October 2020

Word Choice: Familiar vs. Familial

The words ‘familiar’ and ‘familial’ look and sound similar, so it is easy to get them confused in your writing. In this post, we’ll look at what these terms mean and how to avoid errors when using them in your work.

Familiar (Known from Experience)

The word ‘familiar’ is usually an adjective meaning ‘known from experience’. For instance, if you say someone is familiar to you, it means you know them or recognise them from having seen or met them before:

The woman looked familiar because I’d seen her on TV.

Along similar lines, ‘familiar’ can also mean informal, intimate, or friendly:

Josh and Emma have a very familiar relationship.

The waiter was overly familiar with the customers.

And ‘familiar with’ implies someone knows or understands something:

Sasha is familiar with the local rules on fishing.

More rarely, ‘familiar’ can be a noun. In this case, it usually refers to a witch’s magical animal companion, such as a black cat:

Wherever she went, the witch’s familiar followed her.

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The adjectival uses above are far more common in modern English, though.

Familial (Relating to Family)

The word ‘familial’ is an adjective and usually means ‘related to family’:

They have familial ties to the south of France.

Familial relationships can become strained during times of stress.

‘Familial’ can also be used to describe something that affects several members of a family, such as an illness:

My siblings were tested in case the disease was familial.

In all cases, though, ‘familial’ is related to ‘family’.

Summary: Familiar or Familial?

While ‘familiar’ and ‘familial’ look similar, they have different meanings. The key definitions to keep in mind are their adjectival uses:

  • Familiar usually means ‘known from experience’ or ‘intimate’.
  • Familial always means ‘related to family’ or ‘occurring in a family’.

If you are struggling to tell these words apart, then, remember that ‘familial’ always has something to do with family. For anything else, you should use the word ‘familiar’. And if you would like any more help with word choice in your writing, why not try our proofreading services for free today?

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