In his book section 176, 3rd ed., Swan says:

Elder brother/sister are used when a person has only one brother/sister who is older; eldest is used when there are more. An elder son/daughter is the older of two; an eldest son/daughter is the oldest of two or more.

That was not clear enough; I don't see that here. Does that mean you can only use it if you have only one sister that is older than you (you don't have two or more sisters who are older than you ), or you can only use it when you talk about the youngest sister (out of two or more) that is older than you?

1 Answer 1


Big. Bigger. Biggest.

There can be only one "biggest" (and only one eldest sister|brother).

There can be several "bigger" (or several elder sisters|brothers).

I believe what Swan means to say is that one does not use eldest when there are only two siblings. If you have two apples, one of them is not the biggest of the two but the bigger of the two.

  • That's what I believe, but because elder/eldest have a special use and special grammar, and because of Swan's note I am having some doubts, and needed a conformation preferably by citing references or clarification from knowledgeable natives speakers like you.
    – learner
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 11:25
  • You know what I think I am mistaken about my comment and still confused. Just let me gather up my thoughts and comment again!
    – learner
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 11:27
  • How many thoughts do you have? Two? or Three? :-)
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 11:28
  • They do NOT have special use and grammar. It's a matter of comparative/superlative.
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 11:29
  • 1
    Yes, that was idiomatic. I was joking about two/three apples|siblings.
    – TimR
    Commented Nov 8, 2014 at 11:40

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