Welcome here again! I’m glad you are getting informed by reading our various educative posts; otherwise, you won’t come visiting again. Anyway, it’s good to have you here. I present to you Elder vs Older: Correct Usage with Examples. You would not believe that many people use these two words interchangeably; however, you cannot use the two words as such.
Elder vs Older: Correct Usage with Examples
These words are part of the commonly confused words in English. Let us see their correct usage…
Elder vs Older
We will start with Elder and then look at Older…
This is an adjective that conveys the idea or that refers to someone born earlier or born before another, especially within a family. It also connotes the idea of one who has more seniority. In another vein, ‘elder’ can mean ‘superior to others, either by rank or by experience’.
We use elder and eldest only in relation to people and mostly in the context of family relationships. For example:
- She is the elder of Ruth’s daughters.
- Mark is my eldest son.
- The smaller boy is the elder of the two.
We use elder frequently when making reference to family relationships, as in:
- His elder brother arrived before him.
- Her elder sister lives in America.
- She has an elder sister.
- She is the elder of the two.
When you use eldest, or less commonly, elder after a verb, especially the be-verbs (See non-modal auxiliary verbs), it has to be preceded by the definite article the as exemplified in the following sentences:
- Who is the eldest? (Not who is eldest?)
- Was the eldest son at the ceremony?
- I am the eldest in the family.
Before you get it wrong, the word, elderly is not an adverb. Rather, it is an adjective and also a noun. Surprised? It is not every word that ends in ‘-ly’ that is an adverb. (See What is an Adverb?) So, elderly is a related word to elder and it means ‘past middle age and approaching the later stages of life’. Some consider this offensive though. Elderly could also refer to being ‘characteristic of life after middle age’. Additionally, it refers to what is old and somewhat old-fashioned. When elderly is used collectively (See Types of Nouns), it is often preceded by the definite article ‘the’ as in:
- Who needs attention in the community more than the elderly?
- The teller prefers to attend to the elderly first.
- Professor Jeff is regarded as one of the elderly academic.
Older is also an adjective that connotes the comparative form of the adjective old. You can use Older in reference to things as well as people, as we have in these examples:
- The church looks ancient but the castle is the older of the buildings.
- Older generations knew nothing about the digital revolution.
- The smaller girl is the older of the two.
It also can be used for family relationships, as in:
- It was the older children who helped him.
- I am older than John.
- She is the older of the two siblings.
- He has an older brother.
- The singer is the older of the two.
As we can use older in reference to things as well as people, so can we use oldest. We can also use older in a wider range of grammatical constructions such as we have in the following sentences:
- It is the oldest church in England.
- He is the oldest serving president.
- The girl looks older than her age.
Elder (as a Noun)
As a noun, elder suggests experience or worthiness as well as age. It means somebody who was born before somebody else, for instance:
- She is five years my elder.
An Elder is somebody with seniority or who is higher in rank. It also refers to senior members in a church; that is, in some Christian churches, a senior lay member responsible for some aspects of church administration, the pastoral care of church members, and sometimes for teaching and preaching. Elder, as a noun, also refers to a senior member in the community; a member of a family, tribal group, or village who is advanced in years and has influence and authority within the community. See these examples:
- Important issues used to be decided by the village elders.
- Children should respect their elders and betters.
- The pastor ordained new elders in the Church.
- My father is a community elder.
- Such ceremonies are held in the compounds of the elders.
Difference between Elder and Older
You can use both depending on the context of usage or utterance. However, we have established that we can use elder only in relation to people and mostly in the context of family relationships while we can use older in reference to things as well as people.
Elder Brother or Older Brother
Many people believe they can be used interchangeably but from the foregoing, it appears elder brother is more appropriate than older brother. You cannot be “elder” than someone, but you can be “older” than them and you become the elder brother or sister of that person you are older than. However, you can have an older generation, older technology, older methods, older person, etc. In another vein, you can say: He has an older brother and by extension, He is the older of the two. On the contrary, to say He is older than Harry might not be incorrect.
Many words in English that have similarities in the way they look or sound (See Homophones, Homonyms and Homographs) are wrongly used; and this post takes a look at two of such words, elder and older. I’m sure you have learnt one or two things and you would not want to keep the knowledge to yourself. In that case, do not forget to share this post with someone you care about. Sharing is just a button and a click away! You can also check some other educative posts on this platform particularly commonly confused words in English and commonly used wrong Words in English.