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eld·er 1 (ĕldər)
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adj.
1. Greater than another in age or seniority.
2. Archaic Superior to another or others, as in rank.
n.
1. An older person.
2. An older, influential member of a family, tribe, or community.
3. One of the governing officers of a church, often having pastoral or teaching functions.
4. Mormon Church A member of the higher order of priesthood.

[Middle English eldre, from Old English eldra; see al-2 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]

elder·ship n.

Usage Note: In comparisons between two persons, the adjective elder is simply a more formal term for "older" and has no implication of advanced age: My elder sibling is fourteen; my younger is nine. In other contexts it does denote relatively old age, but with the added component of respect for a person's position or achievement: an elder statesman; an elder member of the court. If the simple fact of advanced or relatively advanced age is the point, older or elderly are usually more appropriate than elder: a survey of older Americans; an elderly waiter. · As with the adjective, the noun elder can be used comparatively without implying old age: He is my elder by three years. It can also refer to an office in certain churches or, more broadly, to a position of authority or respect conferred by age and experience: an elder in the Presbyterian Church; a tribal elder. The use of elder in the sense of "an elderly person" is uncommon in contemporary English, though it is widely used as an attributive in such phrases as elder care (or eldercare) and elder services. See Usage Note at old.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

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