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Older vs. Elder

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  Ramya Shankar  —  Grammar Tips
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Older vs. Elder

Sometime back, we wrote an article about oldest vs eldest. On similar lines, today let us explore the comparative version – older vs elder.

Usually to talk about 2 or more things, we use old or older – say the pot is older than you think it is – but when we want to compare the age of two persons, we have to use elder – for example, my father is elder to my father-in-law. With this input in mind, let us explore more about these 2 words.

Elder

When we have to compare the seniority of two people with respect to age, we use elder. For example, members of family, teachers of a school, etc…

The word elder has its roots from the old English ieldra, of German origin eld. Elder is an adjective as well as noun with the plural being elders.

Some examples of elder are:

My elder son couldn’t go to school today because he missed the bus.
The elders of the house did not have a very good impression about her.
My elder sister goes for singing classes twice a week.
Oh, so you are 3 years elder to me!
Be respectful to your elders.

Note – elder is different from elderly, which again is an adjective (and not an adverb, as you and me might think). Elderly refers to people who are above a certain age i.e. in their mid-fifties or more.

Example

Nowadays, elderly people are healthier and more active than youngsters.
The elderly couple walks for about 45 minutes every day.

The point is, when you use elder, you could be just 6 years old, but you are still elder to a 3-year-old!

Often, we get confused whether to use elder than or elder to – which one is correct?
Always prefer to use ‘elder to’ – that is the correct usage. We can say ‘older than’ to refer to objects, but elder to – is used to refer to people.

Older

Old refers to anything that belongs to the past. The comparative form of old is older. For example,

We start understanding many things as we grow/get older.
My parents are older than your parents.
The older version of the software had many useful features than this one.
This place looks older than I thought, it has to be refurbished.
Can you give me a wine older than that?

Notice that we often use ‘than’ for comparison, however in the first sentence older is used in a different context. It is comparison with self.

We can use older for comparison between two persons as well, however elder is more common

My older son turned 5 yesterday

Vs.

My elder son turned 5 yesterday.

While both above are correct, elder is more commonly used for people, while with things and places, older is more suited, rather appropriate.

Hope you have understood the meanings and usage of both the words well – do let us know in comments.

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