Is there a single adjective that means "this person has lots of children"?

Context: I'm not actually talking about a person. I'm talking about a data structure in a computer program, where objects are organized in a hierarchical tree and each object can have few or many "child" objects. So "fertile", and similar words, are inappropriate. The object doesn't produce children on its own; the programmer must assign children to the object.

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    @japreiss Given that such words are generally created to describe living creatures, and that living creatures generally don't have "the presence of many children" without simultaneously having "the ability to have many children", I think you may be looking for a word that doesn't exist. – Matt Gutting Apr 21 '15 at 16:29
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    You might see if there's an appropriate term from the adoption / foster community. – Joe Apr 21 '15 at 17:17
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    It's also possible that the veterinary community might have a term for people with lots of pets that could fit your need. – Joe Apr 21 '15 at 17:25
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    This is a classic X-Y problem. Your real question is "How should I describe this data-structure?" but, instead of asking about that, you're asking about the details of a particular solution attempt. – David Richerby Apr 22 '15 at 10:12
  • Please don't post answers in comments. – Matt E. Эллен Apr 27 '15 at 11:25

22 Answers 22


Merriam-Webster gives prolific:

1 : producing young or fruit especially freely : fruitful

The source is Latin proles meaning "offspring".

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    Oh jeez. Really? I forgot the actual word itself? – Matt Gutting Apr 21 '15 at 16:26


producing or able to produce many babies, young animals, or plants
- Merriam-Webster

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    Nice answer, I think I learned that word for the GRE :) But fecund and prolific both connote the ability to produce lots of children. I need something that connotes the presence of many children without the fertility implication. – japreiss Apr 21 '15 at 15:58
  • Edited question to provide context – japreiss Apr 21 '15 at 16:01
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    Note that fecund can mean either the ability to produce, or the state of having produced (although it does generally mean both). In my read, however, fertile is more related to the potential to produce, whereas fecund tilts towards the actual production. – Chris Sunami Apr 21 '15 at 16:41
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    @japreiss: While that's true of fecund, it's not true of prolific; something is prolific only if it really has produced lots of children. So for instance a "prolific author" is someone who has written lots of books, not someone who could easily write lots of books. – Daniel McLaury Apr 21 '15 at 22:46
  • I was going to say fecund as well. However, @japreiss is right that it connotes the ability to reproduce, not reproducing itself. However, the word prolific implies that the production – in this case of children – has already happened. It has a similar connotation to fruitful. – Gregory Magarshak Apr 26 '15 at 9:02

Your question seems not to be about a general family situation but about the technical situation with data structures in computer science. In the latter case, a binary tree is for internal nodes with two children, ternary for three. The generalization is then


for many children. Other, similar ways of saying this are _n- ary (for an arbitrary number not necessarily many) or var-ary for a possibly changing number of children. All of these are somewhat ... let's say non-classical, but are acceptable within the technical community.

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    +1 for focusing on the OP's context. Polyadic would also work. – 3nafish Apr 21 '15 at 19:01
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    Thank you, but I do not want to distinguish between binary/ternary/multiary, rather to distinguish between different nodes in a single multiary tree (Trie). Some nodes have many children; others have few. – japreiss Apr 21 '15 at 19:07
  • In other words, I'm looking to replace the phrase "nodes with many children". Which is already fine, but I enjoy using a bit of colorful vocabulary when appropriate. – japreiss Apr 21 '15 at 19:09
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    @jpreiss: The whole tree is called k-ary (for different values of k) if all nodes have k children or fewer. You can also use the term for individual nodes: "This node is binary but this one is ternary but this other one is multiary". However if you're at the point where you're specifying for a particular node, you most likely know already how many nodes it has exactly or you want to compare and you'd say "This node has more children than this one." – Mitch Apr 21 '15 at 21:53
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    @japreiss Consider your readers above your desire to use "colorful vocabulary." It's much more important that someone reading your writing can follow it easily. Throwing in nonstandard terminology is more likely to confuse than help; I'd advise against it. – jpmc26 Apr 22 '15 at 8:02

Given what OP has described in the comments, I think branching node would be ideal. We're referring to a node which has branches. We could modify it to highly branching node to clarify we're specifically talking about nodes with a lot of branches.

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    maybe branchiferous? :D – Chris Sunami Apr 21 '15 at 20:50
  • this is my favorite so far because it functions like a single word. I mainly want to avoid the clunky "node with ____" or "node of ____" construct. – japreiss Apr 22 '15 at 22:11
  • If the context is heavily focused on the tree structure, the "branching" may be unnecessary without the "highly" modifier. That said, this is the best answer here for a technical context; clear and straightforward. – jpmc26 Apr 23 '15 at 6:04

Might not be quite correct but as a fellow programmer I would say


Richly supplied; wealthy; possessing in great quantity. - From Wikipedia

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    +1 from me. An abundant node in a tree contrasts well with a sparse node, or even a childless node. – Joe Apr 22 '15 at 20:07
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    Programmer here. Good choice. – Joshua Apr 23 '15 at 18:04
  • @joe "This node is abundant. This node is sparse." Good call – Pharap Apr 23 '15 at 19:58

In medicine, the adjective multiparous is used to describe a woman who has had more than one child. It is also used in biology to describe species that normally give birth to multiple offspring at once (like a litter of puppies).


A tree is a special kind of graph, so I'd go with the standard terminology for a graph, which is saying that your node has a high (or large) degree. You lose the parent/child metaphor, but I think your readers will understand you better.

  • As the OP is refering to graph theory, I think that this is the best answer so far. The degree of a vertex (node) is the number of edges (links) incident to such vertex, so if your graph is a tree, the degree of your node would be the number of children + 1 (except for the root node). +1 – SamuelVimes Apr 27 '15 at 21:44

Given that the structure you're trying to describe is a data tree, it would make sense to use a tree metaphor. You might try Burgeoning


begin[ning] to grow, as a bud; put[ting] forth buds, shoots, etc., as a plant

Because the tree is specifically a data tree, Polyadic would also work.


A group consisting of an indeterminate number of things or people.

Other tree-related terms are verdurous, flourishing, sprouting, germinating, and pullulating.

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    +1, like both the natural language sound of this and the relevance to a data structure rather than a reproductive animal – sq33G Apr 22 '15 at 8:08

I'd say:


My reasoning is that a tree where each node has one child is a degenerate tree, from there I see that such a tree is "sparse". You're looking for the opposite of that, and an antonym of sparse is dense. Also there's some technical definition of "dense" to back that up.

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    Sparse*/*dense is terminology that I would personally apply to the whole graph, not to a vertex. – Federico Poloni Apr 22 '15 at 6:49
  • Hmmm...good point. I was going to say "dense subtree", but then that might not be true either (one vertex may have many children, but then those children may have sparse subtrees, at which point the parent vertex's subtree is sparse). – Anssssss Apr 22 '15 at 14:15

Philoprogenitive is the word.

Having many offspring. [OD]

Another option is multi-child and it is suitable for your context as well. Here is an example usage:

The optimal algorithm is suitable for the cases when the given DFG has a small number of multi-parent and multi-child nodes.

Real-Time Embedded Systems: Optimization, Synthesis, and Networking By Meikang Qiu, Jiayin Li

It can also be used in parenting context:

Lalumière et al. (1996) argue that, in accordance with a Darwinian view, within multi-child families, siblings compete for the same resource: parental investment.

Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology By Louise Barrett

Note: Multi-child might mean just more than one child too but there are also terms like two-child, three-child etc.

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    Bingo X 2, imo. – Papa Poule Apr 22 '15 at 22:55
  • typical programming scenarios reflect simple placement of a node within a tree. maybe it's just me, but philoprogenitive seems more to indicate that the nodes themselves produce children. – erich Apr 24 '15 at 0:41
  • @erich: This is the only word that actually covers "having". Even the OP said "not fertile" but most up-voted answers are direct synonyms of it. People might be just up-voting what they know without paying attention to the details. I also mentioned another word. – ermanen Apr 24 '15 at 17:49
  • i would agree on "having" when it is understood in the containing sense. multi child is the correct term; i will +1 if you remove the first word. – erich Apr 24 '15 at 21:41
  • I was just thinking "progenitory", but I guess "philoprogenitive" has an established definition. – Stuart P. Bentley Apr 26 '15 at 5:20

I would profer populous.

full of residents or inhabitants, as a region; heavily populated.

  1. Unlike prolific or fecund, it doesn't imply that the populous object created the descendant entities. Instead, it has many. (As @Joe brought up in the comments on the OP, foster/adopted families can have many children, which is another situation where the family is populous, but the parents were not prolific and may specifically not be fecund).
  2. Populous has the same roots as populate, a common computer term.

As an alternative to go with the tree/branching terminology often used, there is fruitful.

abounding in fruit, as trees or other plants; bearing fruit abundantly


For hierarchical data structures I use

Bushy to indicate dense connections to child data.

as opposed to

Gangly to indicate sparse connections to child data.

  • I like it, but "bushy" sounds like it describes the whole structure, not a single node. – japreiss Apr 22 '15 at 22:08
  • @japriess Good point. I use these words to describe both entire trees, and individual nodes. But I agree that the primary affinity is toward the entire tree. – Christopher Bruns Apr 23 '15 at 12:10

There isn't one.

In the technical context of the OP's full question there is no accepted single word technical term.

Many of the words mentioned are great for general responses, especially in terms of the question title, but would be questionable usage in a more specific technical context.

If this is referring to a tree graph structure specifically, it might be indicated by referring to the node in question being capable of having a branch factor of two or higher (slightly awkward, as branch factor is more commonly used to describe a currently existing node or tree, not its potential), or having unlimited branching.

In terms of object descriptions, we might refer to it as having multiple properties (children are properties of the parent object when they are directly part of its structure and not simply referred to by some other structure that is a property, such as a list).

In describing data structure relationships (such as in a relational database), this would be called a One-to-Many relationship in terms of the parent object to its children (possibly the closest to a single term, as it is standardized as a compound hyphenation).

"Multiple child objects" are properly described… just as that. Due to the nature of programming, it's far more important to properly describe the relationships as precisely as possible than it is to unnecessarily force brevity in a way that may be confusing or fail to actually be accurate.


My suggestion would be to use rich and to introduce it's usage in your text by means of a definition e.g.: Definition (rich): A node with at least 3 children is called *rich*.

While I can't find a single-word in english denoting "having (possessing) many children" there is a german word for it: kinderreich. This literally translates to rich in children. According to Merriam rich is a synonym of prolific (suggested by @Matt Gutting).

Note that I assume that rich

  • can be rigorously defined on your graph.
  • is unambigous i.e. no other meanings of rich are possible in its context.
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    Rich means something else in programming contexts, sorry. – Joshua Apr 23 '15 at 18:04
  • @Joshua The only meaning of rich specific to programming I could find is rich-client which should be rather hard to mistake a node attribute in a graph for. Unless you had other usages/meanings in mind I don't really see the problem? – Tarok Apr 23 '15 at 21:59
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    Rich text - formatted text; Rich data structure - means something more complex than a tree ; Rich node - not currently used but easily confused with Rich data structure. – Joshua Apr 23 '15 at 22:25
  • @Joshua While I still don't think that confusion could arise as easily here as you seem to think I edited my answer to include that line of thought. – Tarok Apr 24 '15 at 7:56

You could always coin something. The Greek word polyteknos (πολύτεκνος) describes someone who is the parent of three or more children. Nobody will actually understand what you mean unless you define it, but there is a long tradition of importing Greek words into English. You will be in good company.


Using the notion of “assigned” mentioned in your question, maybe “over-assigned”/”under-assigned” (like University dorm rooms sometimes are) would work since you're talking about things and not people.

If “over/under” are too judgmental, maybe you could hyphenate “heavily-assigned” and “sparsely-assigned” and even throw in “unassigned” on the other extreme.

(“Overburdened,” “heavily-burdened,” “lightly-burdened,” “under-burdened,” and “unburdened” might capture a bit better the “parent” angle, but only for those who sometimes see their children as burdens!)


With respect of the context being a data structure, just about any term is going to confuse - as a programmer for many years, I've never had a conversation with anyone or seen any written reference where a 'fertile' concept has been applied to a data structure. The structure itself is not 'fertile' - it has capabilities to have zero or more siblings and so it is not in any way fertile. In the human being context a human in general is not fertile, but a particular woman may be by way of her physiology and behaviour.

As a programmer I find the notion quite bizarre. We create data structures to handle applicable cases and generally anything with siblings is a structure that caters for ranges such as 0..n, 1..n, etc. There's no notion of fertility.


I would use the term:


http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00371-005-0280-8 Subdivision method to create furcating object with multibranches


You may be looking for highly ramified or greatly ramified.

To ramify is to branch out, or to cause branches to form. It is used in mathematics and philosophy as well as botany.

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    Welcome to the ELU :-). This is an interesting answer IMO, but it would be an even better one if it included references (to a dictionary definition, or example of usage in this context) – Lucky Apr 26 '15 at 11:53

I might say "highly paternal" or "highly maternal".

Each of those has cultural meaning, unfortunately ("paternal" makes me think of paternalism, and "maternal" makes me think of nurturing).

  • Welcome to the ELU :-). Some references to a dictionary definition or evidence of usage would be desired. Otherwise the post seems opinion-based and is more appropriate for a comment (when you achieve enough reputation to leave one) – Lucky Apr 26 '15 at 19:38
  • Yes, my answer is definitely opinion-based. Is that inappropriate for this question? – rcorty Apr 26 '15 at 21:45
  • It is generally not desirable on ELU. However, references such as evidence of usage in written language (e.g. examples from Google Books) would improve the answer substantially. Look for more tips here :-) – Lucky Apr 26 '15 at 21:50

You asked:

Is there a single adjective that means "this person has lots of children"?

Context: I'm not actually talking about a person. I'm talking about a data >structure in a computer program, where objects are organized in a >hierarchical tree and each object can have few or many "child" objects. So >"fertile", and similar words, are inappropriate. The object doesn't >produce children on its own; the programmer must assign children to the >object.

You switched from person to object with children. An object with children that doesn't produce children as a parent is a nursery or kindergarten.


How come descendants hasn't come up? All of the "children" have ancestors therefore the ancestors have many descendants whether or not they are actually offspring.

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    Because descendants can't be used adjectivally to describe a person. – curiousdannii Apr 23 '15 at 16:01
  • Seriously? so you're not a descendant of your parents? – lucusp Apr 24 '15 at 20:32
  • That's not what I said. descendant is a noun, not an adjective. Even an adjectival form like descendantal wouldn't mean that someone has a lot of descendents, it would mean that someone was a descendent! – curiousdannii Apr 25 '15 at 1:10

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