Expressions like "maternal uncle" (meaning mother's brother) or "cousin brother" (meaning male cousin), used commonly in e.g. Indian English, define more subtly the relationship between people in question.

But are these used in standard English (British, American)?

  • Partly a duplicate: cousin vs cousin sister – Em. May 19 '17 at 8:42
  • @Max I found it self-explanatory. But the latter one might be harder to get. So yes, edited. – wondering May 19 '17 at 8:56
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    I would not use "cousin brother" but have used the phrase "maternal uncle" when discussing medical history with a doctor, were knowing precisely which family line I was referring to was important. But it is not common in everyday speech. – Sarriesfan May 19 '17 at 12:48
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    Yeah, I've never heard "cousin brother" either. The closest would be "male cousin", and that would be considered pedantic and unnatural in casual conversation. Usually you'd indicate the cousin's gender by what pronouns you use. – Alexander May 19 '17 at 13:34
  • @Sarriesfan Don't you want to create an answer from that? If you comment on "cousin brother", it will be complete and I would accept it:-) – wondering May 19 '17 at 14:46

From the perspective of a British English speaker I would not use 'cousin brother' but as Alexander mentions in his comment 'male cousin' is used on occasion, where clarity is needed. But most of the time I would just mention my cousin by name.

I have used the phrase 'maternal uncle' myself, but that was when I was discussing medical history with a doctor where knowing which family line I was referring to was important.

Phrases like 'maternal uncle' or 'paternal aunt' are not used in everyday speech by most people. These phrases are rather formal and mostly likely used in specific circumstances such as legal or medical matters.


For an AmE answer, I would never use "cousin brother." If the gender wasn't obvious from context and pronouns, I would add "he's a guy" or something of that nature.

I rarely hear/say "maternal uncle," although that is the best fit. It is usually not important - plus if you say something like "Uncle Bob," like you do when you are a kid, unless you have two uncle Bobs, you're fine. Even then, I have two Aunt Debs, and the family just calls the married-in one by her maiden name.

However, "maternal grandfather" and the like are fairly more common, especially since grandparents are talked about without their name more than aunts and uncles. You only have four grandparents, and they kind of identify you, while your aunts and uncles are extended family. For example, "my paternal grandmother died last year, but my maternal grandmother is still alive," in response to a question such as "do you have any grandparents still alive."

  • Yes, maternal/paternal are common for grandparents in technical senses (medical, genealogy). I presume they could be used for aunts and uncles but it's far more common in normal speech to say "mother's sister" or "father's brother's wife", when that needs to be known. 90% of the time we refer to aunts and uncles without specifying which side they're on. – CCTO Jun 6 '18 at 18:31

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