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eld·er·ly (ĕldər-lē)
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adj.
1. Being past middle age and approaching old age; rather old.
2. Of, relating to, or characteristic of older persons or life in later years.
n.
1. pl. eld·er·lies An elderly person.
2. pl. elderly (used with a pl. verb) Older people considered as a group. Often used with the: special recreational programs for the elderly.

elder·li·ness n.

Usage Note: Elderly applies to the stage of life well past middle age. When used as a noun in referring to older persons in general, it is relatively neutral, denoting a group of people whose common characteristic is advanced age: policy issues of special interest to the elderly. However, when used as an adjective in describing a particular person, elderly has a range of connotations that go beyond the denotation of chronological age. On the one hand it can suggest dignity, and its somewhat formal tone may express respect: sat next to an elderly gentleman at the concert. On the other hand it can imply frailty or diminished capacity, in which case it may sound condescending: was stuck in traffic behind an elderly driver. Regardless of other connotations, a phrase such as the elderly couple in the second row suggests greater age than if the couple were described as older. See Usage Note at senior.

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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