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Older vs. Elder – What’s the Difference?


Older and elder are two similar sounding words that can sometimes be used incorrectly by both native and non-native English speakers. Let’s take a look at how they should be used correctly.

Grammar Corner Older vs. Elder – What’s the Difference?


When teaching the English language you often come across words that sound and look similar. Sometimes these words can be used interchangeably to mean the same thing and sometimes they cannot. In this example older and elder can sometimes be used to say the same thing, but they have to be used differently.

The adjective old has a base form, a comparative form, and a superlative form: OLD, OLDER, and OLDEST.

Examples of the three forms:

  • The old dog.
  • The older dog.
  • The oldest dog

These can all be used when talking about things and also people. For example:

  • The old man.
  • The older woman.
  • The oldest person I ever met.

However, there is also another format of the adjective old, i.e., OLD, ELDER, and ELDEST. This format can only be used when referring to immediate family members. For example:

  • My elder sister is a lawyer.
  • My eldest brother likes to fish.

When using elder it must always be followed by a noun.

If you say ‘My brother is elder than me’ – that would be incorrect as elder is not immediately followed by a noun.

A correct usage of elder would be: ‘My elder brother is two years older than me’, as elder is directly followed by the noun ‘brother’.


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