Elderly vs. Old: Know the Difference
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on November 28, 2023
"Elderly" refers to people of an advanced age, often implying respect, while "old" is a more general term that can describe any aged person, object, or concept.
The usage of "elderly" often triggers considerations of care, respect, and social responsibility. It is a term frequently used in healthcare and social services to refer to a specific demographic. On the other hand, "old" is a more general adjective that lacks these specific social and care-related connotations.
"Elderly" is a term specifically used to refer to older people, usually those who are retired or of retirement age. It carries a connotation of respect and acknowledgment of life experience. In contrast, "old" is a broader term that can be applied to people, objects, and concepts to denote age, often without the nuances of respect that "elderly" implies.
When we describe someone as "elderly," there is often an implied sense of dignity and wisdom that comes with age. The term tends to be used in more formal or respectful contexts. However, describing someone or something as "old" is more neutral, focusing simply on the aspect of age, and can sometimes even imply obsolescence or wear.
In social contexts, "elderly" is often used with a degree of sensitivity, acknowledging the particular stage of life and its challenges and accomplishments. "Old," however, is a more straightforward descriptor of age that may lack the nuance and sensitivity towards the conditions and experiences associated with advanced age.
"Elderly" is commonly associated with human aging and is rarely used for inanimate objects. Conversely, "old" is versatile and can describe anything that has existed for a long time, from old buildings to old ideas, highlighting its broader application.
Specifically refers to older people
General term for age
Often respectful, dignified
Neutral, can imply wear or outdated
Sensitive, acknowledges life stage
Straightforward age descriptor
Care, respect, social responsibility
Simply denotes age or duration
Mostly used for humans
Used for humans, objects, concepts
Elderly and Old Definitions
A polite term for describing people in their later years.
The park bench was occupied by an elderly couple.
Having lived or existed for a long time.
The old tree in the yard had been there for generations.
Of an age typically associated with retirement and seniority.
The community center offers programs for the elderly.
Having lived or existed for a relatively long time; far advanced in years or life.
Being past middle age and approaching old age; rather old.
Relatively advanced in age
Pamela is our oldest child.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of older persons or life in later years.
Made long ago; in existence for many years
An old book.
Pl. eld·er·lies An elderly person.
Of or relating to a long life or to people who have had long lives
A ripe old age.
Pl. elderly (used with a pl. verb) Older people considered as a group. Often used with the
Special recreational programs for the elderly.
Having or exhibiting the physical characteristics of age
A prematurely old face.
Old; having lived for relatively many years.
Having or exhibiting the wisdom of age; mature
A child who is old for his years.
Of an object, being old-fashioned or frail due to aging.
Having lived or existed for a specified length of time
She was 12 years old.
An elderly person.
Exhibiting the effects of time or long use; worn
An old coat.
Older people as a whole.
Known through long acquaintance; long familiar
An old friend.
Somewhat old; advanced beyond middle age; bordering on old age; as, elderly people.
Skilled or able through long experience; practiced
He is an old hand at doing home repairs.
Advanced in years; (`aged' is pronounced as two syllables);
Aged members of the society
Elderly residents could remember the construction of the first skyscraper
Belonging to a remote or former period in history; ancient
Advanced in age, especially pertaining to the later years of life.
The elderly gentleman shared stories of his youth.
Belonging to or being of an earlier time
Her old classmates.
Often used to refer to older adults with considerations for care.
Specialized healthcare is important for the elderly.
Often Old Being the earlier or earliest of two or more related objects, stages, versions, or periods.
Denoting a stage of life associated with wisdom and experience.
The elderly members of the community were revered for their knowledge.
Having become slower in flow and less vigorous in action. Used of a river.
Having become simpler in form and of lower relief. Used of a landform.
Used as an intensive
Come back any old time. Don't give me any ol' excuse.
Used to express affection or familiarity
Good ol' Sam.
An individual of a specified age
Old people considered as a group. Used with the
Caring for the old.
Former times; yore
In days of old.
Of an object, concept, relationship, etc., having existed for a relatively long period of time.
An old abandoned building
An old friend
Of a living being, having lived for most of the expected years.
A wrinkled old man
Of a perishable item, having existed for most of, or more than, its shelf life.
An old loaf of bread
Of a species or language, belonging to a lineage that is distantly related others
The ginkgo is one of the oldest living trees
Basque is the oldest language in Europe
Having been used and thus no longer new or unused.
I find that an old toothbrush is good to clean the keyboard with.
Having existed or lived for the specified time.
How old are they? She’s five years old and he's seven. We also have a young teen and a two-year-old child.
My great-grandfather lived to be a hundred and one years old.
(heading) Of an earlier time.
My new car is not as good as my old one.
A school reunion for Old Etonians
That is no longer in existence.
The footpath follows the route of an old railway line.
That is the old way of doing things; now we do it this way.
When he got drunk and quarrelsome they just gave him the old heave-ho.
(UK) Being a graduate or alumnus of a school, especially a public school.
Tiresome after prolonged repetition.
Your constant pestering is getting old.
Said of subdued colors, particularly reds, pinks and oranges, as if they had faded over time.
A grammatical intensifier, often used in describing something positive, and combined with another adjective.
We're having a good old time.
My next car will be a big old SUV.
My wife makes the best little old apple pie in Texas.
(obsolete) Excessive, abundant.
|invariable plural only}} People who are old; old beings; the older generation, taken as a group.
A civilised society should always look after the old in the community.
(slang) A person older than oneself, especially an adult in relation to a teenager.
I had to sneak out to meet my girlfriend and tell the olds I was going to the library.
A typically dark-coloured lager brewed by the traditional top-fermentation method.
Not young; advanced far in years or life; having lived till toward the end of the ordinary term of living; as, an old man; an old age; an old horse; an old tree.
Let not old age disgrace my high desire.
The melancholy news that we grow old.
Not new or fresh; not recently made or produced; having existed for a long time; as, old wine; an old friendship.
Formerly existing; ancient; not modern; preceding; original; as, an old law; an old custom; an old promise.
Continued in life; advanced in the course of existence; having (a certain) length of existence; - designating the age of a person or thing; as, an infant a few hours old; a cathedral centuries old.
And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou?
Long practiced; hence, skilled; experienced; cunning; as, an old offender; old in vice.
Vane, young in years, but in sage counsel old.
Long cultivated; as, an old farm; old land, as opposed to new land, that is, to land lately cleared.
Worn out; weakened or exhausted by use; past usefulness; as, old shoes; old clothes.
More than enough; abundant.
If a man were porter of hell gate, he should have old turning the key.
Aged; antiquated; hence, wanting in the mental vigor or other qualities belonging to youth; - used disparagingly as a term of reproach.
Old-fashioned; wonted; customary; as of old; as, the good old times; hence, colloquially, gay; jolly.
Used colloquially as a term of cordiality and familiarity.
Past times (especially in the phrase `in days of old')
(used especially of persons) having lived for a relatively long time or attained a specific age; especially not young; often used as a combining form to indicate an age as specified as in `a week-old baby';
An old man's eagle mind
His mother is very old
A ripe old age
How old are you?
Of long duration; not new;
Of an earlier time;
His old classmates
(used for emphasis) very familiar;
Good old boy
Same old story
Lacking originality or spontaneity; no longer new;
Moth-eaten theories about race
Just preceding something else in time or order;
The previous owner
My old house was larger
Of a very early stage in development;
Old English is also called Anglo Saxon
Old High German is High German from the middle of the 9th to the end of the 11th century
Old in experience;
An old offender
The older soldiers
Used informally especially for emphasis;
A real honest-to-god live cowboy
Had us a high old time
Went upriver to look at a sure-enough fish wheel
Outdated or obsolete.
He still used an old model of the smartphone.
Showing the effects of age.
The old book had tattered pages and a faded cover.
Former or previous.
She visited her old high school.
Used to express affection, slight frustration, or familiarity.
My old friend always tells the best jokes.
Repeatedly Asked Queries
Is "elderly" a politically correct term?
Generally, "elderly" is considered a respectful and politically correct term.
Can "old" be used affectionately?
Yes, "old" can be used affectionately, especially in familiar contexts.
Can "old" refer to inanimate objects?
Yes, "old" is commonly used to describe inanimate objects that have existed for a long time.
Does "elderly" imply a need for care?
Often, "elderly" is used with an understanding of potential care needs.
Does "old" imply historical value?
"Old" can imply historical value, especially when referring to objects or buildings.
Is "elderly" always used for people?
Yes, "elderly" specifically refers to older people.
Is "old" a neutral term?
"Old" is usually neutral but can sometimes carry negative connotations depending on context.
Is "elderly" used in legal contexts?
Yes, "elderly" is often used in legal and policy contexts related to aging.
Can "elderly" be used for animals?
It's less common, but "elderly" can sometimes be used for older animals.
Does "elderly" suggest wisdom?
"Elderly" often implies wisdom and experience due to age.
Can "old" have negative implications?
Yes, in some contexts, "old" can suggest obsolescence or deterioration.
Is "elderly" an age-specific term?
"Elderly" typically refers to people in their retirement years or older.
Is "elderly" always a respectful term?
While generally respectful, the context and tone can affect how "elderly" is perceived.
Can "old" be used in a playful manner?
Yes, "old" can be used playfully among friends or in affectionate contexts.
Are "elderly" and "senior" interchangeable?
They are similar, but "senior" might be perceived as less age-specific than "elderly."
Is "old" a subjective term?
Yes, what is considered "old" can vary greatly depending on context and perspective.
Can "old" refer to a state of being?
Yes, "old" can describe both physical and metaphorical states of being.
Can "old" describe a period of time?
Yes, "old" can describe a past period or era.
Does "old" always refer to age?
Primarily, but it can also refer to former states or conditions.
Does "elderly" imply retirement?
Often, but not always, as retirement age can vary.
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Written byShumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.