I am looking for a way of describing the class of words such as brother, friend, enemy, predecessor, tenant, colleague which describe one person in relation to another, and might be preceded by my, your , his etc.

This would not include word such as idiot, farmer, composer, birdwatcher, author.

It would include words such as teacher in the context "she took an apple for her teacher" but not in the context "Mr Brain is an excellent teacher".

Is there a word or phrase for this?

I want to use it in the phrase:

The Hebrew word "ebed", meaning "servant" is a _________ word. It does not mean servant in the sense of a person doing a particular type of job, it means a servant in relation to his master.

  • 4
    Any reason not to simply use "relationship"? Aug 15, 2016 at 15:01
  • @MaxWilliams Well, that is a good suggestion, thank you. I will put that at least for now. I do have a vague recollection from school, though, that there is an actual name for this class of words.
    – davidlol
    Aug 15, 2016 at 15:10
  • 1
    Are you thinking of kinship-terms? Ordinarily, however, this label is only used for familial relationships.
    – choster
    Aug 15, 2016 at 15:15
  • @choster I think that probably is what I was thinking of from school, but as you point out it does not include non-family. Thanks.
    – davidlol
    Aug 15, 2016 at 15:58
  • ... "servant" is a "social link" descriptor.
    – Graffito
    Oct 5, 2016 at 15:47

2 Answers 2


My preference is for relational, which means:

Concerning the way in which two or more people or things are connected.

In your example, there seems little need to encode the fact that the relation is one between people.

Further, I prefer relational expression over relational word in your context. The resultant sentence is:

The Hebrew word "ebed", meaning "servant", is a relational expression. It does not mean servant in the sense of a person doing a particular type of job, it means a servant in relation to his master.

An alternative is to call it a relational noun. Nouns like brother, sister, mentor, co-author, enemy and so on, are sometimes called this in linguistics literature (see here and here).


Though I agree that relationship should suffice, to avoid ambiguity, you may use interpersonal relationship.

Your example:

The Hebrew word "ebed", meaning "servant" is an interpersonal relationship word.


An interpersonal relationship is a strong, deep, or close association or acquaintance between two or more people that may range in duration from brief to enduring.
This association may be based on inference, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment.
Interpersonal relationships are formed in the context of social, cultural and other influences. The context can vary from family or kinship relations, friendship, marriage, relations with associates, work, clubs, neighborhoods, and places of worship. They may be regulated by law, custom, or mutual agreement, and are the basis of social groups and society as a whole.


interpersonal adjective
: relating to or involving relations between people : existing or happening between people

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