older versus eldest

Discussion in 'English Only' started by igma, Jul 4, 2010.

  1. igma Banned


    Can´t you say "my eldest son" instead of "my older son" in the next sentence and still be correct?

    I tie my older son to the post.

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2010
  2. Cypherpunk Senior Member

    Springdale, AR
    US, English
    There is a previous thread about this. Eldest is rarely used, except in certain situations, and I'll refer you to the other thread for them, as they are described in detail, there.

    Older is used if there are two children. Oldest is usually used if there are three or more children. One of these two words is usually used, these days.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2010
  3. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    I am confused. How many sons do you have?

    If you say older, we think that you have two sons, and are speaking about the older of the two. If you say eldest, we will probably think that you have more than two sons, although some people allow the superlative 'eldest' to be used for the older of two as well.
  4. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Is he older than all your other sons (the oldest, the eldest), older than your one other son (the older, the elder), or just older than somebody (older)?

    Using my, I would say "my eldest son" for the first case, "my elder son" for the second case, and "my older son" for the last case.

    More context would help decide between "older/oldest" and "elder/eldest".
  5. Hermione Golightly

    Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    British English
    Hello igma

    First, you need to know how many sons, or other relatives, you are comparing. :)

    If there are only two we would use the comparative form ending with -er. If there are more than two , then we would use the superlative form ending in -est.

    The problem with the adjective old is that there is an alternative form:
    Old -older- oldest form used for things or people, but old- elder- eldest can be used when talking about family members.

    I was educated to use elder and eldest for family members and I still do, because I have to make a conscious effort not to. It is probably very old fashioned, but nobody can say it is wrong. If that is what you have been taught or are being taught, it's not a good idea to use older-oldest for family members, because it will be marked wrong.

    My elder/older? (child) is not clever (There are two)
    My eldest/oldest? (daughter) is very clever. (There are more than two)

    Note: this is when the adjective comes before the noun.

    Using elder and eldest can't be wrong, although it might not be necessary.

    (On the other hand, tying children to posts is always wrong.)

  6. igma Banned

    Thank you very much Hermione,

    Say we are four children and I am referring to the second oldest brother and say I was born the third.

    If I talk about my second oldest brother I would say: "My older/elder brother is going away on holiday/vacation next week".

    What do you think of the use of it presented above?

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2010
  7. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    That would be grammatically correct, but since both brothers are older than you (we're still comparing two ages at a time, but doing it twice), we still wouldn't know which one you're talking about.

    There is a confusing nuance here. For example, my wife has three younger brothers but only one "youngest brother."

    If it's important to the discussion to specify chronological age, just say "my second oldest brother." If not, I would just say "my brother" or use his name.
  8. e2efour

    e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 76)
    UK English
    You can't go wrong with saying "my eldest son", even if you have only two sons. Using the superlative (eldest, oldest) for two is common.
    One has to be careful, though. We talk about "putting my best foot forward" (for two feet) but we have to say "my lower lip" and not "lowest".

    In my opinion, to restrict the superlative to more than two is pedantic. It does not correspond to usage and is pointless from a communications point of view.
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2010
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I have two brothers, both older than me.
    Andy is four years older than me.
    Bill is two years older than me.

    My elder brother is quite definitely Andy. He is the older of my two brothers.

    My older brother could be either Andy or Bill, both of whom are older than me.
  10. igma Banned


    According to what I have read in a dictionary with example sentences I would say

    "My eldest/oldest brother is quite definitely Andy.He is the oldest/eldest of my two brothers".

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2010
  11. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    You surprise me.
    I would not expect dictionary examples to use the superlative form with only two brothers.
  12. e2efour

    e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 76)
    UK English
    "Dingy, dingey. The first is best."

    And who wrote that? Well, Fowler!
  13. Twoflower

    Twoflower Member

    UK, English
    I always say "eldest" when referring to the oldest sibling, never "oldest" or "elder"/"older", even if there are only two. I think I would also say "eldest son" and "eldest daughter" for the oldest of each gender.

    In all other contexts I use "oldest" as the superlative of "old". Interestingly, Word Reference's own dictionary lists "eldest" as a synonym of "firstborn", and doesn't list its original meaning as a superlative of "old".

    I never use "elder" as a comparative adjective when referring to siblings, though I have heard it used when specifically comparing two siblings: "The elder of the two is the better singer". I do use it in the stock phrase "elder statesman" (where the comparitive meaning is more or less vestigial), and as a noun, like "village elder" for example.

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