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Grammar detail: family are people

family are people
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Consider this sentence, which is the standard Japanese way to say 'there are 5 people in my family':
うち
にん
かぞく
家族
です
We are a family of five.
Looking at this word by word, we have:
  • うち (our house / family / home / we)
  • は (topic marker)
  • 5人 (five people)
  • かぞく
    家族
    (family)
  • です is
In other words, literally this means 'we are a family of five' - quite a different construction to the typical English form beginning with 'there are'. The same applies to the question form - if we wanted to say 'how many people are there in your family?', we would use the following:
なんにん
何人
かぞく
家族
です
How many people are there in your family?
More generally, in English, we commonly use sentences beginning with 'there is / are', to talk about the number of people in a family, but a literal translation would sound rather unnatural in Japanese. Consider the following examples:
わたし
さんにん
3人
かぞく
家族
です
There are three people in my family.
メイちゃん
よにん
4人
かぞく
家族
です
There are four people in Mei's family.
These are very natural expressions in Japanese, but quite different to the English equivalent. Neither a literal translation of the Japanese to English, or the opposite, would work well.
Another discrepancy between English and Japanese is that when we use the term 'siblings' (or just 'brothers and sisters'), the count excludes the speaker of the sentence - but the Japanese equivalent,
きょうだい
兄弟
includes the speaker. So for example consider:
わたし
さんにん
3人
きょうだい
兄弟
です
I have two siblings.
Notice how the Japanese form refers to 'three' (because it literally means 'I am (one of) three siblings'), but in the equivalent English sentence we need to substitute 'two'. When referring to a third party, the pattern matches the English:
かのじょ
彼女
には
きょうだい
兄弟
ふたり
二人
います
She has two siblings.
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Kanji used in this grammar

ジン   ニン   ひと person   
カ   ケ   house   いえ    や    
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ゾク    tribe   
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ケイ   キョウ   elder brother; brother   あに elder brother   
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ダイ   テイ   デ   おとうと younger brother   
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カ   なに    なん what?   
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シ   わたくし    わたし I, myself   
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ヒ   かれ he   
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ジョ   ニョ   ニョウ   woman; female   おんな woman   め woman   
ニ   ふた    ふた two   
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