9

As I understand, in comparative form of Adjectives, elder is used of persons, and older is used of both persons or things. One other feature of elder is that it is not used with than. However, it is not clear to me whether it can be used with to. For example, while the following are most likely correct

X is my elder brother

X is older than me

is it okay to use elder to in the following way

X is elder to me

While we are on the topic, I would also like to get some advice on how to use them when specifying the age. Like, what is the proper way to write the following sentences

When using elder

X is elder to me by 2 years/X is 2 years my elder

When using older

X is 2 years older than me/X is older than me by 2 years

Sorry if this comes across as too confusing. I tried my best to make it as clear as possible.

Thanks

  • 1
    Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/142035 – tchrist Aug 9 '15 at 12:50
  • Hmm. It's only slightly related. It doesn't answer my query at all. Thanks though. – axomna Aug 9 '15 at 12:52
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    Generally if you say "elder to" there is an implication that the two parties are siblings, or are in some other way connected. "Older than" carries no such implication. – Hot Licks Aug 9 '15 at 13:47
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    Elder is somewhat archaic and is used more in fixed phrases like elder brother. Mostly people use older, which is a modern form without umlaut. – John Lawler Aug 9 '15 at 13:58
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    We don't say "elder to {person}". Nor do we say "faster to it". – TRomano Aug 9 '15 at 14:05
11

You used to be able to use elder simply as the comparative degree of old, and indeed Shakespeare himself did so. But no, you cannot now say that someone is elder than another person. The OED has marked this use as obsolete via their ‘†’ sigil:

  1. That has lived or existed longer; senior, more advanced in age.

    a. Formerly used (both of persons and things) as a predicate; also as an attribute followed by than. Now superseded by older.

The last three citations provided are:

  • 1596 Shaks. Merch. V. ɪᴠ. i. 251 ― How much more elder art thou then thy lookes?
  • A. 1639 W. Whateley Prototypes ɪɪ. xxxiv. (1640) 161 ― Friendship is like wine, the elder the better.
  • 1673 Cave Prim. Chr. ɪ. vii. 203 ― A custom probably not much elder than his time.

We must now say that one person is older than another, not that they are †elder than the other.

Elder also has various substantive uses.

3

"Elder" and "eldest" are still used for family members and can stand comfortably on their own without "child" or "sibling" specified - eg "Jane is the elder" or "Harry is the eldest". Compared to non-siblings: "Harry is the oldest member of the team". The only "thing" use of elder I remember is when we speak of the "Elder Edda" from Iceland, but that doesn't come up very often.

  • Fiction writers have also made use of e.g. "Elder Gods", "Elder Things" (H. P. Lovecraft) and "Elder Days" (Tolkien). And there are those "Elder Scrolls" video games. – hemflit Aug 9 '15 at 21:29
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Saying someone is "elder to me" is not wrong. It is an elegant (slightly poetic or archaic) way of saying someone is older than you. It could be elegantly used when you are speaking of someone with whom you are in a close relationship, like an older brother or a cousin or someone with whom you work who is either older than you or has been there longer than you.

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I was taught this simple rule in junior school (many years ago!): "elder" is used where just TWO persons are compared, "older" is used when more than two are concerned.

e.g. "This is the elder brother of the two." "These two are the older brothers of the three."

  • How do you know whether what you were taught was correct? How do we know whether you correctly understood what was taught? Note that this site is a bit different from other Q&A sites: an answer is expected to be authoritative - preferably by quoting a reference (e.g. a grammar guide or dictionary) hyperlinked to the source. You can edit your post to add this detail; for further guidance, see How to Answer. Make sure you also take the Tour :-) – Chappo Nov 10 '18 at 5:01

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