Difference Wiki

Former vs. Old: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on November 8, 2023
Former refers to having been something in the past; old describes something that has existed for a long time.

Key Differences

The word "former" is typically used to indicate a previous state or position that is no longer held. It signifies a transition from one status to another. "Old," in contrast, is a more general adjective that describes age, showing that someone or something has been around for many years, often implying wear or datedness.
"Former" can imply a contrast between the past and the present. When speaking of a "former president," it indicates someone who once held the office but does not anymore. "Old" does not carry the inherent implication of a contrast between past and present positions; it simply indicates that something is aged, as in "an old building."
The use of "former" can also suggest a certain respect or acknowledgment of a person's previous role or situation. It is not necessarily indicative of age but of position in time. "Old," however, often carries connotations of obsolescence or change over an extended period, without any reference to a specific role or position.
In a corporate setting, "former" would be the appropriate term to describe someone who used to work for the company, such as a "former CEO." It is precise and factual. The term "old," if used to describe a person in a similar context, could be seen as disrespectful or impolite; it is more sensitive to context and connotation.
"Former" is also used in a more structural context, as in the "former and latter" construction, where it helps to differentiate between two items in a list. "Old," however, can be used in a broader sense, not only describing people and man-made objects but also animals, ideas, or natural formations, indicating their age or duration of existence.

Comparison Chart

Temporal Reference

Past status or position
Long passage of time


Neutral, factual
Can imply wear or obsolescence


Typically for roles or titles
Describes age or condition


Professional, historical
General, everyday use


Used in comparative structures
Used as a standalone descriptor

Former and Old Definitions


Preceding in time.
She often visited her former school.


Having lived or existed for a long time.
My old dog struggles to climb the stairs.


Having once been.
The former mayor attended the ceremony.


Outdated or no longer in use.
She still uses an old typewriter for her work.


Preceding in order.
In the sentence “Alice and Bob went shopping,” Alice is the former.


Worn with age or use.
The old jacket was frayed at the edges.


The first of two mentioned.
Between the salad and the soup, I prefer the former.


From an earlier period of history.
They love collecting old coins.


Previous in one's career.
He bumped into his former teacher at the reunion.


Reflecting the characteristics associated with age.
His old habits die hard.


One that forms; a maker or creator
A former of ideas.


Having lived or existed for a relatively long time; far advanced in years or life.


Relatively advanced in age
Pamela is our oldest child.


What does former mean?

Former describes something that was once the case but is not anymore.

Does old imply negative qualities?

It can, but context matters; it may also imply venerability.

Does former refer to the recent past?

Not necessarily; it simply indicates something that is no longer the case.

Can old refer to people and objects?

Yes, old can describe both aged people and objects.

Can former ever mean old?

Not directly; former is about past status, while old is about age.

Can a child be old?

No, typically old refers to later stages of life or long existence.

Do the terms old and former have synonyms?

Yes, both have synonyms but they differ in context.

Is former always about people?

No, former can refer to any previously held status, position, or condition.

How do you use former correctly?

Use former when indicating a past state or role.

Can former be used to describe ancient artifacts?

No, former is not about age but about past status.

Can a building be called former?

Yes, if it previously served a different purpose.

Is it polite to call someone old?

It can be sensitive; "senior" or "elderly" might be more polite.

Can businesses be called old?

Yes, if they've been established for a long time.

Is former used for objects?

It can be, usually for a previous function or design.

How do you describe an old philosophy?

As an "old" or "ancient" philosophy, not former.

Is former a term of respect?

It can be, especially when referring to someone’s previous achievements.

Can I use former for discontinued products?

Yes, to indicate they were once available but no longer are.

Can old be used positively?

Yes, when it implies endurance or tradition.

Is former related to formality?

It's often used in more formal contexts than old.

Does old have a time limit?

No, it's relative to context and perspective.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons