adj. old·er, old·est
a. Having lived or existed for a relatively long time; far advanced in years or life.
b. Relatively advanced in age: Pamela is our oldest child.
2. Made long ago; in existence for many years: an old book.
a. Of or relating to a long life or to people who have had long lives: a ripe old age.
b. Having or exhibiting the physical characteristics of age: a prematurely old face.
c. Having or exhibiting the wisdom of age; mature: a child who is old for his years.
4. Having lived or existed for a specified length of time: She was 12 years old.
a. Exhibiting the effects of time or long use; worn: an old coat.
b. Known through long acquaintance; long familiar: an old friend.
c. Skilled or able through long experience; practiced: He is an old hand at doing home repairs.
a. Belonging to a remote or former period in history; ancient: old fossils.
b. Belonging to or being of an earlier time: her old classmates.
c. often Old Being the earlier or earliest of two or more related objects, stages, versions, or periods.
a. Having become slower in flow and less vigorous in action. Used of a river.
b. Having become simpler in form and of lower relief. Used of a landform.
8. often ol' (ōl)
a. Used as an intensive: Come back any old time. Don't give me any ol' excuse.
b. Used to express affection or familiarity: good ol' Sam.
1. An individual of a specified age: a five-year-old.
2. Old people considered as a group. Used with the: caring for the old.
3. Former times; yore: in days of old.
[Middle English, from Old English eald; see al-2 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Synonyms: old, ancient1, archaic, antediluvian, antique, antiquated
These adjectives describe what belongs to or dates from an earlier time or period. Old is the most general term: old lace; an old saying.
Ancient pertains to the distant past: "the hills, / Rock-ribbed, and ancient as the sun" (William Cullen Bryant).
Archaic implies a very remote, often primitive period: an archaic Greek bronze of the seventh century BC.
Antediluvian applies to what is extremely outdated: "I ... went out to reconnoiter a fresh typewriter ribbon for Professor Mitwisser's antediluvian machine" (Cynthia Ozick).
Antique is applied to what is especially appreciated or valued because of its age: antique furniture; an antique vase.
Antiquated describes what is out of date, no longer fashionable, or discredited: "No idea is so antiquated that it was not once modern. No idea is so modern that it will not someday be antiquated" (Ellen Glasgow).
Usage Note: Old, when applied to people, is a blunt term that usually suggests at least a degree of physical infirmity and age-related restrictions. It should be used advisedly, especially in referring to people advanced in years but leading active lives. · As a comparative form, older might logically seem to indicate greater age than old, but in most cases the opposite is true. A phrase such as the older woman in the wool jacket suggests a somewhat younger person than if old is substituted. Where old expresses an absolute, an arrival at old age, older takes a more relative view of aging as a continuum—older, but not yet old. As such, older is not just a euphemism for the blunter old but rather a more precise term for someone between middle and advanced age. And unlike elderly, older does not particularly suggest frailness or infirmity, making it the natural choice in many situations. See Usage Note at elder1.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.