Difference between Elder and Older

Key difference: Elder can only be used for people, while there is no such restrictions on older. Elder, is often used to denote a person of great age, such as the elders of the family’ or ‘the village elders.’ Older is usually used to compare two or more things, while elder is always is always used to compare more then two people.

Elder and older are two words that are often used to describe age. However, there are times when one is correct, while the other is not.

Dictionary.com defines ‘elder’ as:

  • Of greater age; older.
  • Of higher rank; senior: an elder officer.
  • Of or pertaining to former times; earlier: Much that was forbidden by elder custom is accepted today.
  • A person who is older or higher in rank than oneself.
  • An aged person.
  • An influential member of a tribe or community, often a chief or ruler; a superior.

While, ‘older’ is defined as:

  • Far advanced in the years of one's or its life: an old man; an old horse; an old tree.
  • Of or pertaining to the latter part of the life or term of existence of a person or thing: old age.
  • As if or appearing to be far advanced in years: Worry had made him old.
  • Having lived or existed for a specified time: a man 30 years old; a century-old organization.
  • Having lived or existed as specified with relation to younger or newer persons or things: Jim is our oldest boy.
  • Having been aged for a specified time: This whiskey is eight years old.
  • Having been aged for a comparatively long time: old brandy.
  • Long known or in use: the same old excuse.
  • Overfamiliar to the point of tedium: Some jokes get old fast.
  • Belonging to the past: the good old days.
  • Having been in existence since the distant past: a fine old family.
  • No longer in general use: This typewriter is an old model.
  • Acquired, made, or in use by one prior to the acquisition, making, or use of something more recent: When the new house was built, we sold the old one.
  • Of, pertaining to, or originating at an earlier period or date: old maps.
  • Prehistoric; ancient: There may have been an old land bridge between Asia and Alaska.
  • (Initial capital letter) (Of a language) in its oldest known period, as attested by the earliest written records: Old Czech.
  • Experienced: He's an old hand at welding.
  • Of long standing; having been such for a comparatively long time: an old and trusted employee.
  • (Of colors) dull, faded, or subdued: old rose.
  • Deteriorated through age or long use; worn, decayed, or dilapidated: old clothes.
  • Physical Geography. (Of landforms) far advanced in reduction by erosion or the like.
  • Sedate, sensible, mature, or wise: That child seems old beyond his years.
  • (Used to indicate affection, familiarity, disparagement, or a personalization): good old Bob; that dirty old jalopy.
  • Informal. (Used as an intensive) great; uncommon: a high old time.
  • Former; having been so formerly: a dinner for his old students.

As it can be seen from the definition, older is a much wider term than elder. Elder can only be used for people, while there is no such restrictions on older. Elder, is often used to denote a person of great age, such as the elders of the family’ or ‘the village elders.’ Older is usually used to compare two or more things, while elder is always is always used to compare more then two people. For example: Mary is the eldest of the group. The blue cheese is older than the rest of the cheeses in the fridge.

Usually, the verb ‘elder’ can be replaced with older, however not the other way round. For example: Mary is the oldest person in the group. However, ‘The blue cheese is elder than the rest of the cheeses in the fridge’ is incorrect.

Examples of ‘elder’:

  • My elder sister
  • She is elder than me
  • Tom is the eldest member of our family
  • My grandmother is an elder
  • My dad is the eldest in my family.
  • The elder officer retired today.

Examples of ‘older’:

  • My older sister
  • She is older than me
  • I am older than Tim
  • This is the oldest woman in the office.
  • The road ends at the old gate.
  • This computer is an old model.
  • We sold the old car.
  • I am meeting my old friends from school.
  • The older the Scotch, the better it tastes.

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