I'm writing an article about the family and how it can change a person's life in the future.

I need a word that tells the readers about a family in which the parents have not been good enough to teach their kids social skills and generally those things they will need in the future to be able to live well.

  • The word must be formal (and polite).

I searched the dictionary for some words, but I'm not sure if they are the right words to be used with family. I found the following:

Inefficiency, incompetence, inadequacy, ineptitude, inefficacy

None of the dictionaries I checked (Longman and Oxford) mention whether or not this is the right word to be used with family. Ineptitude of family?

  • Not sure what you are looking for with 'polite'. It is impolite to criticize the manner of someone's upbringing. Perhaps, they did not have the benefit of a good upbringing
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 6:54
  • Well, you're right. But this is kind of a psychological study and not a personal criticism. I also found "dysfunction of family". This seems polite I think!
    – Manoochehr
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 6:56
  • 2
    Good, I thought about suggesting dysfunctional
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 6:57
  • 1
    Dysfunctional family is a widely used term, with more than 5 million Google hits. There's also the parenting philosophy of "benign neglect."
    – JLG
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 12:37
  • In French, you might refer to the children as “poorly raised”, as a comment on the parents. It sounds a bit strange in English, though.
    – Jon Purdy
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 20:08

3 Answers 3



This should fit the bill of describing the core issue, whilst not judging manners broadly, nor performing character assassinations.

I think dysfunctional is also insufficient because functionalism can come under heavy debate.

  • 1
    downvotes should have the courtesy to comment Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 20:01

The same issue would come up if you wanted to express any other negative thing about a person in a formal, polite way.

The truly descriptive words might be things like "incompetent" or "irresponsible". But those are clearly highly charged words.

The common way to make such statement more polite is to tone them down. Instead of saying someone was "incompetent", say "they were less than completely competent", etc. That works in a personal conversation where the other person will likely understand what you mean. I'm not sure it works in the kind of scholarly discussion you're describing, where it could be taken literally -- they had minor failings -- rather than as a polite understatement.

Still, anything truly descriptive will be harsh.


I suggest uncouth, uncivil, mannerless

uncouth is defined as Lacking good manners, refinement, or grace.

I'm not sure there's a polite way to say it though.

dysfunctional sounds more polite but it is a more general term; there are many different ways that a family can be dysfunctional.

  • 3
    I think the OP is about more than just a lack of manners.
    – immutabl
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 15:43

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