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Thread: older/elder

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    #1

    older/elder

    Hello,

    Would you please tell me about the difference between "older" and "elder" and about the contexts in which they are used ?

    Is "elder" mainly used in informal English?

    Thank you

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    #2

    Re: older/elder

    Older is the standard comparative of old.

    My brother is older than I am.
    My car is much older than yours.

    Elder (adjective) is normally used only of members of one's close family, especially siblings. It is never used with than.

    My elder brother is a teacher.
    I have two brothers. The elder is a teacher, the younger a miner.

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    #3

    Re: older/elder

    Quote Originally Posted by fivejedjon View Post
    Older is the standard comparative of old.

    My brother is older than I am.
    My car is much older than yours.

    Elder (adjective) is normally used only of members of one's close family, especially siblings. It is never used with than.

    My elder brother is a teacher.
    I have two brothers. The elder is a teacher, the younger a miner.
    Thank you very much for your answer.

    I am also interested in the level of language when this adjective is used. Is it used in a formal or informal style of language?

    Thanks again.

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    #4

    Re: older/elder

    elder

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    #5

    Re: older/elder

    "My elder sister" and "my older sister" are both correct and neither has a specifc register. But (I'm reading on the web) "elder" may sound "smart" to some people.

    "Elder" can be a noun too. "Older" can't.

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    #6

    Re: older/elder

    "Elder" is softer in connotation than "older" - especially when referring to women. Even you sister does not want be referrd to as an "older woman." "Elder" carries respect; "older" carries age.

    The "elders" of a tribe or society are the wise ones. The "older ones" are the weak ones.

    It is not a matter of "formal" or "informal" use - the words are simply not frequently interchangeable. "Elder" can only be used of people, for example; "older" must always be used for anything else, living or not (i.e., animal, vegetable or mineral).

    And yes, while you would properly say "She is older than her brother," only if she was out of earshot could you risk saying "She is the oldest" instead of "She is the eldest" without offence.

    With men, it's different. You may say, "He is my older brother" with a sense of pride attached to it. In fact, "He is my elder brother" sounds odd, as if you were trying to confer something (wisdom?) on him that's inappropriate in this context.

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    #7

    Re: older/elder

    I suspect, jlinger, that you may be presenting your opinions as facts. My opinions are added below.
    Quote Originally Posted by jlinger View Post
    "Elder" is softer in connotation than "older" - especially when referring to women. Even you sister does not want be referred to as an "older woman." "Elder" carries respect; "older" carries age. I don't agree that 'elder' necessarily conveys the idea of respect or softness. And we cannot refer to my sister as an 'elder' woman; 'elderly', yes, but that's a different word.

    The "elders" of a tribe or society are the wise ones. Yes.
    The "older ones" are the weak ones. Not necessarily.

    It is not a matter of "formal" or "informal" use - the words are simply not frequently interchangeable.They are interchangeable in the restricted cirumstances in which 'elder' is used as an adjective (see post 2).

    And yes, while you would properly say "She is older than her brother," only if she was out of earshot could you risk saying "She is the oldest" instead of "She is the eldest" without offence. Not necessarily. Some people do not use 'elder/eldest' at all.

    With men, it's different. You may say, "He is my older brother" with a sense of pride attached to it. In fact, "He is my elder brother" sounds odd, as if you were trying to confer something (wisdom?) on him that's inappropriate in this context. Not necessarily.

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