Thursday, November 8, 2007

Family vs Families

While I was in Bacolod, I kept hearing people say, "I want to work abroad to support my families." I was not sure what these people meant by using "families." Did they have large families or did they have several families, i.e., more than one wife or husband or children from different marriages?

Since most of the people I was talking to were young women who were studying English to work as nurses abroad, I can only assume that they meant they had large families who needed financial support. Now, what is the difference between family and families?

Family is a collective noun which refers to a person's blood relatives. We all know that family is the basic unit of society composed of the mother, father, and kids. Here in the Philippines, family will include grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and all manner of blood relation. Family also connotes the responsibilities we have to take for people who are related to us. As a collective noun, though, family means several people--all your relatives or all the people you consider as part of your family. The plural is never used to talk about one family, no matter how many members it has.

When do we say families, then? We use the plural when we're referring to several families. Consider: "Most Filipino families have at least one member working as an OFW." In this sentence, we're talking about many (more than one) Filipino families. This is different from "I have a big family. Some of the members of my family are working abroad." Here, the speaker is referring to just her family, despite the fact that many people are part of it.

If you say families, though, people might think you're part of several family units. In other words, you have more than one wife or husband or several children from different marriages. You know, the stuff soap operas are made of.

So, it's best to say, "I want to work abroad to support my family."

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