If one has two elder brothers, is it OK to say "My eldest brother is this and the second eldest is that"?

  • Use 'oldest and 'second oldest' and ask people who say the latter is illogical and therefore unacceptable how they explain away 'second best'. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 14 '20 at 11:53

Eldest is a superlative, while elder is a comparative. While you have two elder brothers, there can only be one eldest brother.

If you say,

My elder brother lives in Los Angeles, while my eldest brother lives in Chicago.

then the hearer would know that you have at least two elder brothers and that the oldest lives in Chicago.

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    I wouldn't contrast "my eldest brother" with "my elder brother" like this. The expression "my elder brother" is typically understood as meaning something like "my brother who is older than me". So when you start a sentence with "my elder brother", it's not clear that you have two brothers and that you are talking about the younger one. – herisson Jul 19 '18 at 15:01
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    I don't see how there is anything wrong with the expression "second eldest". Superlatives are fairly commonly prefixed with "second" to indicate "the next-to-greatest". – herisson Jul 19 '18 at 15:03
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  • The specific phrase "My eldest brother is this and the second eldest is that" complicates the apparent issue into near incomprehensibility. I suggest that older/elder/eldest is vastly more complex than most of us realise, and not simply because at least a huge minority of, if not most English speakers couldn't explain it to save their lives. If you're sure "older/elder/eldest" isn't about number, that's fine. In my view there is no comparison to older/elder/eldest in any other part of English, purely because this is about number… More… – Robbie Goodwin Jul 19 '18 at 21:29
  • Further… “Good/better/best” has nothing to do with number in English or any other language while several Central European languages do make important distinctions among one; more than one and up to five; more than five; many. (Try, for instance Czech, Polish, Slovakian, Slovenian and possibly Russian, among others.) – Robbie Goodwin Jul 19 '18 at 21:32

I think that's fine, but other people evidently disagree. I found discussion of the topic of whether "second eldest" is a correct turn of expression in a court case, actually:

It is said, "second eldest" is not grammar; there can only be one "eldest". I do not agree in that. I suppose that it would be good grammar to say "A, B and C, are the three oldest men in the parish."

(Thellusson v. Rendlesham [1858-59], in The English Reports, Volume XI: House of Lords, Containing House of Lords Cases (Clark's), Volumes 7 to 11)


Older and oldest refer to age --> She is the oldest member of the committee.

Elder and eldest refer to seniority within a family. --> My eldest sister is 4 years older than me.

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    Hi Peter, welcome to EL&U. I'm inclined to agree with your answer, but at this site we don't rely on personal opinion, we seek authoritative answers backed up by evidence. You can edit your post to add a quote from a reference book or an explanation and link to an online source. See How to Answer for further guidance. :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Oct 24 '18 at 8:14
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    The New Fowler's Modern English Usage: “elder. As an adj., elder is now for the most part confined to the meaning '(of two indicated persons, esp. when related) senior, of a greater age (his elder brother)'. Hence the superlative form eldest. Outside this restricted use of family seniority, elder lingers [where] elders mean[s] persons whose age is supposed to command the respect of the young,... the elder brethren of Trinity House, ..., and elder statesman. In all ordinary contexts when the comparative and superlative forms of old are called for these are, of course, older and oldest.” – Greybeard Apr 16 '20 at 13:04

You don't have an "eldest" because there are only two. Same reason you don't have "second eldest" even. Both are your elder brothers:

the older of the elder brothers and the younger of the elder brothers.

  • If both brothers are older, why do you need to specify elder? My oldest (youngest) brother would suffice and is not ambiguous. – JJJ Jul 25 '18 at 6:29
  • @JJJ Perhaps. :D – Kris Jul 25 '18 at 6:30
  • @JJforTransparencyandMonica See Peter Selie. – Kris Dec 19 '19 at 10:05

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