What’s the difference between the words “ relative” and “relation”? I think they are synonyms and mean a person of the same family. But are there any differences in their usage?

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    What did your dictionaries, thesauruses or search engines leave unclear? Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 20:26

2 Answers 2


Relative and relation are synonyms when they are nouns referring to family relations. Relative has meanings that relation doesn't have and vice-versa.

Relative is also an antonym of absolute as in this definition:

something dependent upon external conditions for its specific nature, size, etc.

Relation can also refer to non-familial relations, like relations between countries, friends, work, etc. It also be used as a polite way of describing sexual intercourse

Relative can also serve as an adjective within a sentence while the word relation never can.

  • This is a question for English Language Learners, not this site. And "relation" by itself does not mean "sexual intercourse", which is itself a euphemism for the venerable English word, "fucking".
    – David
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 20:01

In the US, relatives is more commonly used to describe extended family than relations - although it is more common in the South to hear the latter term.

Among those who would use both terms, "relatives" is more likely to describe folks that you might see at a holiday gathering, while "relations" are often met for the first time at the funeral of a family patriarch.

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