Elder, Eldest or Oldest – What’s the Difference?

Photo of author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Adjectives are what make sentences interesting, understandable, and elevated from a simple structure. They provide the details needed for an author to properly convey their message, which is why their proper use is necessary.

When describing age variations in a sentence, you have more than one option and should use the correct one when modifying nouns and pronouns. For instance, do you know when to use elder and eldest or older and oldest?

Let’s take a closer look at how these words are used to help you elevate your writing and speech.

What’s the Difference Between Elder, Eldest and Oldest?

Elder Eldest or Oldest Whats the Difference

As comparative and superlative adjectives, elder and eldest are variants of older and oldest. They also work as nouns referring to, respectively, one who is older or one who is the oldest.

Elder and eldest are usually used in reference to people, especially sons, daughters, sisters and brothers, and they also tend to connote seniority.

They might sound wrong in reference to nonhuman things; for example, we wouldn’t call a car or a house elder than another. Instead, we would call one older than the other or the oldest from among two or more objects.

Explaining the Elder Degrees of Comparison

In order to properly choose between elder and eldest or older and oldest, you need to know what function they serve within a sentence in relation to the other words.

How to Use Eldest in a Sentence

Eldest refers to age, usually in respect of seniority, and is almost always used in reference to people within the same family. It literally means “most grown up” and can be used as both an adjective and a noun.

Eldest as an Adjective

Use eldest as a descriptive adjective before nouns that describe the oldest or most elder family member. It is exclusively used with people.

For example:

  • Michael is the eldest brother of all his siblings.
  • My great-grandfather is the eldest living member of the family.

Eldest as a Noun

Eldest can also function as a noun when the meaning is easily understood. Eldest almost exclusively refers to family members, so it is not difficult to understand when it is used as a noun.

For example:

  • My eldest just graduated college and accepted a position in a law firm, working as an independent researcher.
  • What plans does your eldest have for the summer?

How to Use Oldest in a Sentence

Unlike eldest, oldest can refer to any object or person (related or otherwise) to explain that it is the most mature in age. However, it is generally reserved for unrelated people as opposed to eldest.

Oldest vs. Eldest Ngram
Oldest and eldest usage trend.

Oldest is a more popular adjective than eldest due to its familiarity with modern writers.

For example:

  • This is the oldest part of the archaeological dig and where we first realized how important of a find we had stumbled upon.
  • The oldest books in the library were located in the basement in a temperature-controlled reading room.

How to Use Elder and Older in a Sentence

The comparative adjective forms of eldest and oldest are elder and older, respectively. They almost exclusively refer to an individual in a group of two or more but occasionally refer to an important subject.

Elder Eldest or Oldest Whats the Difference 1

Elder is more likely to be reserved for people, while older may sound more grammatically correct with other subject matters.

For example:

  • His elder sister took charge of their grandfather’s will due to the bickering among his other siblings.
  • The older students in the class took part in setting up tutoring sessions for anyone struggling with the materials.
  • Ryan’s elder cousin joined the military at the same time he did.
  • The car is an older model, but it still runs dependably.


Eldest and elder are both derived from the adjective old, an Old English word from the Anglian influence, “ald,” and the West Saxon “eald,” meaning “antique, mature or long in existence or use” from the 5th century.

Eldest was of Old English Mercian influence, “eldrost,” meaning most advanced in age, or firstborn, and was a superlative of eald and ald.

Elder, meaning “more old,” was also of the Mercian influence, eldra.

Let’s Review

Elder, eldest, older and oldest all refer to the age or maturity of an individual person or subject from among two or more.

As adjectives, elder and eldest are similar in use to older and oldest, except that they work almost exclusively in reference to people—usually family members. Older is also often used in reference to people, but of those unrelated. Oldest can be used for anything.

Comments are closed.