Your brother or your sister

Your brother or your sister

Which of them is your ‘uso’?

We’ve talked about this lesson sooooo many times, at Notebook Samoana and on our social media, because the Samoan word ‘uso’ is pretty popular and often used… wrong.

And I get it – language evolves. People are allowed to get creative with their words, but in case you want to know how most Samoan language speakers refer to their siblings, here you go!

Like talking about your child, the words you use to refer to your brother or sister depends on your own gender.

If you are male

If you identify as male, then your brother is indeed your uso. But you would refer to your sister as tuafafine – not uso.

If you are female

The wording switches up when you’re a girl. If you are female, your sister is your uso, for sure. But your brother is referred to as your tuagane – not uso.

Your Uso? No?

Your gender Your brother Your sister
Male Uso Tuafafine
Female Tuagane Uso

When your gender is not one or the other

Thank you to everyone who, like Vigi (in the comments for this post), has pointed out that people don’t always identify as strictly male or female. How would this affect the way you refer to your sisters or brothers?

I don’t know that we have a Samoan language ‘rule’ for that situation, but even in English, we’re still working out appropriate pronouns for the gender spectrum, right? Until we reach a language consensus, I say, choose the words that feel right for you.

Bonus Lesson: More than one sibling

In the Samoan language, nouns do not change form to show plurality, so I can have 1 uso or 20 uso. In a sentence, the words around the nouns are modified instead to indicate more than one.

For example:

  • O lo’u uso e aulelei. | My sister/brother is good looking.
  • O o’u uso e aulelei. | My sisters/brothers are good looking.

Notice that the possessive pronoun for ‘my’ changed from lo’u (describing 1) to o’u (describing more than 1)?

And don’t forget… if you’re going to give a number to your siblings, because you’re talking about people, you precede the number with to’a.

  • E to’a fā o’u tuagane. | I have four brothers.