from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun One who is older than another or others; an elderly person.
  • noun A forefather; a predecessor; one of a former generation in the same family, class, or community.
  • noun In the Old Testament, a title of indefinite signification applied to various officers, but generally indicating in the earlier history the princes or heads of tribes, and afterward men of special influence, dignity, and authority in their local community.
  • noun In the New Testament, also the title of certain officers in the Christian church, whose functions are not clearly defined, but who apparently exercised a considerable control in the conduct of the local churches.
  • noun In certain Protestant churches, an officer exercising governmental functions, either with or without teaching or pastoral functions.
  • noun In some bodies of American Methodists elder is the general term for any clergyman. In the Methodist Episcopal Church the presiding elder is an ordained clergyman appointed by and serving under the bishop as superintendent, with large though carefully defined supervisory powers within a specified “district,” which usually corresponds somewhat in extent to an average county in an eastern State. In this district every minister is amenable to him, and every church is subject to his supervision and is usually visited by him three or four times during the year. He presides at Quarterly and often at District Conferences. Traveling elders are itinerant preachers appointed by the Annual Conference.
  • noun In the Mormon Church the elder is an officer whose duty it is “to preach and baptize; to ordain other elders, and also priests, teachers, and deacons; to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost; to bless children; and to take the lead of all meetings.” The elders constitute the Melchizedek priesthood, and include the apostles, the Seventy, the evangelists or patriarchs, and the high priest. Mormon Catechism, xvii.
  • noun Among the Shakers, four elders, two males and two females (the latter also called elderesses), have charge of each of the aggregated families.
  • Older; senior; having lived a longer time; born, produced, or formed before something else: opposed to younger.
  • Prior in origin or appointment; preceding in the date of a commission; senior: as, an elder officer or magistrate.
  • Prior in time; earlier; former.
  • noun The common name for species of Sambucus.
  • noun In the United States, the Aralia hispida.
  • noun Same as wild elder (under elder).
  • noun Same as wild elder (under elder).
  • noun Same as pale elder.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun One who is older; a superior in age; a senior.
  • noun An aged person; one who lived at an earlier period; a predecessor.
  • noun A person who, on account of his age, occupies the office of ruler or judge; hence, a person occupying any office appropriate to such as have the experience and dignity which age confers
  • noun (M. E. Ch.) A clergyman authorized to administer all the sacraments.
  • noun (Meth. Ch.) an elder commissioned by a bishop to have the oversight of the churches and preachers in a certain district.
  • noun a lay presbyter or member of a Presbyterian church session.
  • noun (Bot.) A genus of shrubs (Sambucus) having broad umbels of white flowers, and small black or red berries.
  • noun See under 1st Box.
  • noun See Danewort.
  • noun (Bot.) Same as Elder.
  • noun the cranberry tree Viburnum Opulus).
  • adjective Older; more aged, or existing longer.
  • adjective Born before another; prior in years; senior; earlier; older; ; -- opposed to younger, and now commonly applied to a son, daughter, child, brother, etc.
  • adjective (Card Playing) the hand playing, or having the right to play, first.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • adjective Comparative of old; greater than another in age or seniority.
  • noun An older person or an older member, usually a leader, of some community.
  • noun One who is older than another.
  • noun An officer of a church, sometimes having teaching responsibilities
  • noun US, Mormonism The lowest office in the Melchizedek priesthood.
  • noun US, Mormonism One ordained to the office of elder.
  • noun US, Mormonism Male missionary, title for a male missionary; title for a general authority.
  • noun A pagan or Heathen priest or priestess.
  • noun A small tree of the genus Sambucus having white flowers in a cluster, and purple berries.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun any of various church officers
  • noun a person who is older than you are
  • adjective used of the older of two persons of the same name especially used to distinguish a father from his son
  • noun any of numerous shrubs or small trees of temperate and subtropical northern hemisphere having white flowers and berrylike fruit


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Old English eldra, from Proto-Germanic *alþizô.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle English eldre, eller, from Old English ellærn, from Proto-Germanic *el(d)ernaz (confer Low German Elhorn, Elloorn), adjectival from Proto-Indo-European *h₁edʰ-l-i 'spruce, fir' (compare Middle Irish aidlen 'silver fir', Latin ebulus ("dwarf elder"), Old Prussian addle 'fir', Czech jedle 'silver fir', Ancient Greek ἐλάτη (elate, "silver fir")


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word elder.


  • The term elder, or old man as the Hebrew literally imports, was one of extensive use, as an official title, among the Hebrews and the surrounding nations, because the heads of tribes and the leading people who had acquired influence were naturally the older people of the nation.

    Smith's Bible Dictionary 1884

  • Taking care of a elder is a emotional challenge because of some of the negative behavior exhibited by the elder.

    Readers respond: Plight of caring for aging parents touched many 2007

  • The elder is smoking while looking at the riverside, waiting for the ritual of God Boat Burning to proceed.

    Global Voices in English » Taiwan: Burning of the Plague God Boat 2009

  • He refers to the elder Dubus affectionately as "Pop" and doesn't seem embittered by the havoc the man wreaked on his family.

    Bareknuckle Beginnings Gordon D. Marino 2011

  • Mark Isaacs, former chief of psychological services at Spring Grove Hospital in Catonsville, Md., who is known as an elder statesman of the program, said "the whole atmosphere became charged with tension" after the changes earlier this year.

    Doctor Revolt Shakes Disability Program Damian Paletta 2011

  • Southern comfortable gentleman waits in elder shadows for bears & bunnys.

    Gift staxxy 2009

  • Mr. Gore being a party elder is a result of more than age, Both you and John Edwards might as well wait until June 3rd.

    Gore speaks: I still may endorse 2008

  • The thing about George Bush the elder is that if you paid enough attention to him and what he said, at a certain point you could safely assume that whatever statement issued from his mouth, invariably the opposite was the case. —

    The Political Revival of George Herbert Walker Bush - The Caucus Blog - 2008

  • Democratic aides, speaking anonymously, said Lieberman told Reid he would actually go so far as to support a Republican-led filibuster against the bill if it contained any of the provisions (such as long term elder care, or help for the disabled) that he opposed.

    The Grinch Who Stole Health Reform 2009

  • Ultimately, a friend who works in elder care made the difference, by describing some of the horrible foreskin infections she has had to treat in older patients.

    First the Bagel, Now the Mohel - Freakonomics Blog - 2007


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.