Not say I want to say: “elderly”

Welcome to the third edition of “Not Say I Want To Say”!

I owe all of you a post on this since I was knocked out on Fri after the ‘twin happiness’ of enduring a somewhat painful surgery and discovering that I’d been selected for the Gangwon-Style Immersion Programme.

(BTW please humour me regarding what I “owe”; it’s a psychological thing to motivate me to post at least one article a day, so please harangue me if I don’t update this site daily!)

Today’s “Not Say I Want To Say” word is “elderly”.

Elderly women

Example from a news report:

Two China nationals from a syndicate were arrested by the police on Sunday afternoon for allegedly attempting to cheat these elderly, mostly in their 60s.


From “Two men arrested in fake gold ingot scam targeted at elderly”, my emphasis.

How has “elderly” been misused here?
The speaker has used the word “elderly” as though it were a noun. However, the word is only used as an adjective or as a collective noun.

In other words, “elderly” can only be used to modify another noun e.g. the elderly person (where “person” is a noun) or to refer to a group of people in society e.g. the needs of the elderly.

How do we use “elderly” correctly?
Ask yourself: am I referring to one senior citizen or a group of senior citizens?


When you need to refer to one senior citizen, use “elderly” as an adjective – not a noun:

When you need to refer to a group of senior citizens:


Efficiency of non-standard use:
Actually, quite efficient – consider how “family” is used as a noun (e.g. “his family“), a collective noun (e.g. “the role of the family in society today”) and an adjective (e.g. “the family car“).

Potential for adoption:

SOME possibility for adoption. But seriously, you’ll sound like a boor if other English speakers don’t use “elderly” in the same way.

Have a good Monday and don’t let the Monday blues get you down (save that for me and my linguistic fascism)!

About the author

Laremy Lee

A versatile educator, writer and editor, Laremy Lee (李庭辉) has the uncanny knack of being one of the few among his generation in Singapore who crafts compelling stories in different genres.

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