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Etymology 1[edit]

From Old English eldra, from Proto-Germanic *alþizô. The vowel change from a to e triggered by the following i is called umlaut.



  1. Comparative of old: older, greater than another in age or seniority.
    • The elder of the two was also an elder statesman
    • 1913, Robert Barr, chapter 5, Lord Stranleigh Abroad[1]:
      She removed Stranleigh’s coat with a dexterity that aroused his imagination. The elder woman returned with dressings and a sponge, which she placed on a chair.
Usage notes[edit]

The normal comparative of old is older. The irregular form elder is sometimes used with family members, but otherwise rare (except in fixed expressions such as elder statesman). Elder is generally limited to attributive position (my elder brother) and does not occur in predicative position (*my brother is elder).



elder (plural elders)

  1. An older person or an older member, usually a leader, of some community.
    We were presented to the village elder.
  2. One who is older than another.
    Respect your elders.
  3. One who lived at an earlier period; a predecessor.
    • L'Estrange
      Carry your head as your elders have done.
  4. An officer of a church, sometimes having teaching responsibilities.
  5. A clergyman authorized to administer all the sacraments.
    a travelling elder
  6. (US, Mormonism) One ordained to the lowest office in the Melchizedek priesthood.
    After being a member of the Church for a while, Bill was ordained to the office of elder.
    Jack had been an elder for only a few days when he received a new calling.
  7. (US, Mormonism) Male missionary.
    The elders are coming over for dinner tonight.
  8. (Mormonism, often capitalized) Title for a male missionary; title for a general authority.
    One of the long-time leaders in the Church is Elder Packer.
  9. (paganism and Heathenry) A pagan or Heathen priest or priestess.