10a. In plural.

Age; the length of time that a living thing has lived.

Merriam Webster


5b Years plural : age


What is the subtle difference between “years” and “age”? Dictionaries seem to treat them as the same. Are they interchangeable in the following examples from OED?

1853 F. S. Mines Presbyterian Clergyman looking for Church ii. 17 A tradition that I have since discovered to be not very venerable for its years.

1867 E. A. Freeman Hist. Norman Conquest I. vi. 594 William, still a boy in years but a man in conduct and counsel.

1920 R. Macaulay Potterism i. i. 3 They were..as intellectually snobbish as was proper to their years.

2005 R. Douglas Night Song Last Tram 174 Streetwise beyond his years, there was nothing that frightened him.

1 Answer 1


Years - like months, hours and minutes - are units of measurement of time.

Age is a definition of a particular length of time - whatever the units used to define it - whether of living creatures, rocks or planets.

But years, as in your examples, is often used as a metaphor for age, especially for older people and buildings.

Instead of saying, for example, that his white beard bore witness to his age, we say that it bore witness to his years. It's just another way of putting things, especially in poetic or dramatic contexts.

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