I was wondering if these two words "menage" and "family" had any differences in use.

According to OED, "menage" means "the members of a household", but their example sentences make "menage" and "family" appear interchangeable. For example, "You'll find your ... square tables, some even set for three for ménages of the same size...".

Are they truly interchangeable or are they differently nuanced?

  • 22
    They're not interchangeable because not one E1L speaker in ten has any idea what "menage" (with or without accent) means, beyond what they can glean from it's use in "ménage à trois".
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 5, 2016 at 12:31
  • 7
    @HotLicks or menagerie which is probably no better...
    – MD-Tech
    Aug 5, 2016 at 13:13

1 Answer 1


There certainly is a difference... ménage would sound and feel antiquated or (overly) formal to most people.

Furthermore, there is a subtle difference in meaning. A family implies that the members are a group of people related by blood, and they can still be a family if they don't share a house. A ménage refers rather to a household, which in many cases would be a family, but it doesn't have to be the same. A priest living with his housekeeper (once a common arrangement!) could be considered a ménage of two, but it's not his family. Similarly, a couple of students that share accommodations could be considered a ménage, but not a family.

And finally, ménage is used in the expression ménage à trois, which can lead to unwanted connotations when you mean a household!

  • 23
    It is also worth noting that "ménage" is a rare enough word that many audiences will not understand it at all.
    – jejorda2
    Aug 5, 2016 at 12:11
  • Appreciate the helpful response and the laughs at the end :)
    – Kenneth
    Aug 5, 2016 at 12:13
  • 13
    It may be funny, but @jejorda2 has a point. I think it is likely that many people, if they recognize the word, only know of the meaning in ménage à trois. So apart from funny, it's a serious consideration :)
    – oerkelens
    Aug 5, 2016 at 12:16
  • So it's perfectly innocent to inquire of one member of a couple how their 'menage' is doing. Excellent. Aug 5, 2016 at 17:42
  • If not for the risque associations, Menage would actually be the perfect word for what many people are calling "domestic partnerships" where two or more people who are not necessarily related live together as if they were family.
    – barbecue
    Aug 5, 2016 at 19:37

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