They are a family vs they are family

Vaultec

Senior Member
English - Canada
So I'm trying to think logically but they both mean the same thing to me.
Because,

'They are family' - describes that the subjects belong together.

vs

'They are a family' - also means the same thing but would it relate to more of a type of family? hence a family?

Let's say that we're trying to describe an ordinary group of family members. So 'they are a family' would sound weird to me as oppose to 'they are family'. The more I think about it, the more convincing that 'they are a family' would mean non-related people such as friends would consider themselves a family, I think.
 
  • srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    "They are family" means that they are closely related, not that they constitute an entire family. Jim and Mary are brother and sister, so they are family. Jim, Mary, their mother and father, and their baby brother are a family.
     

    SwissPete

    Senior Member
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    You can also use "They are family" to describe very close friends. They are the people with whom you have a very close bond, people you wish were really your relatives.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    in case srk wasn't clear: with the "a" ("they are A family") whoever is listed is the ENTIRE family. The sentence is an equation. they = 1 family. If you name just some of them, "they are part of a family".

    The phrase "they are family" often means "they are related", and is sometimes used for 100 or more people, all aunts and uncles and cousins of each other, that stay in contact. But "A family" usually means the 2,3,4,5 that live together.
     

    Vaultec

    Senior Member
    English - Canada
    oh I see. Wow thank you everyone! The clarifications and examples made a lot more sense to me. So it's like 'a family' describes everyone within the family where as 'they are family' describes the relationship of the individuals and how close they are. Also like how @dojibear 'They are part of a family' mentioned, this is a great example to really show the emphasis on why we use 'a' to describe who is within the family as a family. Thank you @srk @SwissPete
     
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