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An older man came in the door.

Is it natural to use "older" about someone without comparing his age to someone else? If yes, would it be interchangeable with "old"?

2 Answers 2

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It is natural to use it. It's used both as a polite euphemism, because calling someone "old" can be interpreted as insulting, and as a way of indicating a particular age range.

In my colloquial experience, an older man is 50 - 65, while an old man is 70s and up.

Someone might use "elderly" as a more delicate substitute for "old."

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Yes.

I am going to introduce you to her next week. She is an old woman.

This sounds definite in assigning the woman a label: she is old. That's what she is. She is instantly lumped together with old people.

I am going to introduce you to her next week. She is an older woman.

Here the age of the person of interest is much less clear. Usually the speaker is comparing the age of that person to an age group they have in mind. The speaker could be speaking from a comparison of that person and the speaker themself or the listener, or a general age group (their friends, the general prime age). For example two adults talking about "an older gentleman" mostly likely have in mind someone older than their colleagues. Two highschoolers might just use this phrase to refer to a working age adult. So I agree with Katy that saying "older" often comes off as politer, as it is softer in wording.

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