“Elder” vs. “Older”- How are they different?

The elder you get, the wiser you become!

Well, the philosophy is quite true! But does it sound right? Eh, not so much!

Let’s replace elder with older.

The older you get, the wiser you become!

Yes, much better! So, what did we learn here?

Both elder and older express comparison in age. But they cannot be used interchangeably in all cases.

Let’s find out why.


Elder is an adjective that can be used only when you are talking about people.

  • My elder daughter is a doctor.

It is not used for objects, places or animals. You cannot say, ‘They have found an elder version of the book’.

Of course, there is the ‘Elder Wand’, but it is just a classic case of creative liberty!

Elder cannot be used to make direct comparisons. So, while comparing the age of two people, the traditional than is not added after elder.

  • Incorrect: James is elder than Lara.
  • Correct: James is elder to Lara.

In some instances, elder is used to denote relatively old age, while expressing respect for a person’s position.

  • White is an elder member of the academy.

Elder is also used as a noun. It means older people, in a respectful manner.

  • The elders of the family moved back to their hometown.


Older is an adjective, as well. But, unlike elder, it can be used for people as well as for animals and things.

  • They have found an older version of the book.

Older is sometimes used after get or grow to indicate aging. In such cases, elder cannot be used.

  • You will understand this once you get older.

Older is also used to compare the age of two people or objects. Here, we add than after older.

  • James is older than Lara.
  • The Indus Valley civilization is believed to be older than the Egyptian civilization.

Some people like to use older while talking about someone who is ‘more’ in age or tenure. While it conveys the idea clearly, it fails to express the respect that elder does.

  • White is an older member of the academy.

Also, older cannot be used as a noun.

Elder or Older: What to use where?

  • While comparing the age of two people, it is fine to use either of the two. However, older is used more commonly.
  • Elder can be used only for people. So, while talking about anything else, use older!
  • Get/grow is followed by older, and never elder.
  • Need a noun for old people? Use elder, and not older.

There you go! Use these tips when you write the next time and bid adieu to confusion!

Do you also have trouble choosing between affect and effect? Check out our blog “What is the Difference between Affect and Effect?” to see how we have made it easy for you!

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