Older or elder

19 Sep

Welcome to a new troublesome pair. I wonder when I’ll run out of these! I’ve had a load of suggestions to work through recently, but if you have a favourite you’d like me to write about, and it’s not already in the index, do let me know!

Older and elder are a pair of words that are quite similar, but, like other pairs, I have a preference for using particular ones in particular contexts, and I’ll share those!

Older means, oddly enough, of a greater age than something else.  “John, at 34, is older than Matthew, who’s 32”.

Elder is slightly different – it means of a greater age than a set of people it’s being contrasted with. So “John is the elder sibling”. I prefer this usage, although of course you could use “older”.

As has been pointed out, I need to mention that elder/eldest refers to “of two” and “of more than two” respectively; the same with older/oldest.  “John is the oldest sibling, but the older of my 2 boys”.

So, no huge distinction, but one can be found and enjoyed!

You can find more troublesome pairs here.


Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


Tags: , , ,

5 responses to “Older or elder

  1. Jen

    September 19, 2011 at 8:02 am

    Can I suggest a troublesome threesome? Some guidelines for using ‘as’, ‘since’ or ‘because’ when explaining the reason for something. Thanks!


  2. Chandra Dev

    September 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Very nice explanation.


  3. Liz at Libro

    September 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you Jen and Chandra. Jen, I will look at this one soon!


  4. Gill Rose

    September 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    Surely elder means of a greater age than one person being contrasted with, and eldest is contrasting with more than one? Goes for older/oldest, too, so are they interchangeable?

    John is the older sibling of two. John is the oldest sibling of three, or more.

    John is my elder son (I have two). John is my eldest son (I have three).

    John has a younger brother and a younger sister; John is my eldest child but my elder son.


    • Liz at Libro

      September 19, 2011 at 6:43 pm

      That Oldest was a typo – but I have added in a bit about elder/eldest too – thank you!



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