It’s very helpful to be able to write and speak about different ages in IELTS. This lesson gives you some age words, phrases and idioms to do just that. Please note the ideas at the end of the lesson on ways you can use these words and phrases in the test. Used well this language can help with
finding more ideas in writing
extending answers in speaking
being more precise
Some basic words
pre-teen – children from around 10 onwards who act as if they were already teenagers
grown-ups – a slightly more idiomatic phrase for adults
We frequently refer to people by the decade of their age. The older people get, the less precise we normally are!
In his twenties
In her early thirties
In her mid-thirties
a thirty something – a more idiomatic phrase
In his late forties
(Somewhere) around 50
Getting on for 60 – an idiomatic phrase for nearly 60
When we use ages in English we very often just use the number with nothing else. This is particularly true once you get beyond 20! So we can say
My brother is 14.
The alternative is to add “years old”
My brother is 14 years old
We can also use an adjectival phrase x-year-old to describe someone’s age. But note the hyphens
A 3-year-old child is not old enough to go to school
One way to talk about children is to categorise them by the type of school they go to
primary school children
secondary school children
young adults – can be used to refer to people from 18 onwards
School leavers often find it hard to find work and as a result sometimes become depressed.
Some primary school children are only allowed to watch television for a few hours a week by their parents.
This can be harder! The idea of an “old” person has changed as people live longer and there can be issues of politeness in describing someone as “old”
middle-aged people – 40 onwards (?)
people in their sixties
senior citizens – typically used for people who have retired
pensioners – technically people with a pension but sometimes used more generally for older people
The elderly are most affected by this proposal as they more frequently rely on public transport to get around.
There is a new trend to employ more older people in shops even if they are beyond retirement age.
age group – this is often/normally used for younger people and is quite precise e.g. children in the 12-14 age group
age bracket – this is a more technical phrase e.g. people in the 50-60 age bracket
peer group – this refers to people of the same age and background/education
Children in the 12-14 age group would benefit from more careers advice to help them choose which subjects to specialise in at school.
People in the 50-60 age bracket are increasingly taking early retirement because of the introduction of new technology int he workplace.
Generations and the generation gap
A key word can be generation
the older generation –
the younger generation
people of [that] generation
a generation gap – the idea that people of different ages act and think differently
There are also “technical” generation words to describe different generations. These are some of the more common terms, There’s a link below to find out more about these terms
The baby boomer generation/baby boomers – born in the era after the war (the second world war!) – think the Clintons
generation X – became adults in the 1980s
The millennial generation/millennials/generation Y – became adults around the turn of the 21st century
The younger generation tend to use smart phones to organise every aspect of their lives, whereas older people still only use their devices to make calls on.
Local libraries are still important to people from an older generation who are not comfortable using modern technology.
Some age phrases and idioms
There are lots of idiomatic phrases for talking about age. Here are a few that may come in useful
ageism – discrimination against people because of their age
come of age – reach the age when you’re considered an adult (often 18/21)
to be young for your age
to be on the wrong side of  – to be older than 40
to enter your second childhood – the idea that some older people have more fun as they get old (often when they retire)
to be young at heart – used of older people who seem younger
forty is the new thirty – to say that a forty-year-old today is not old as you think
have an old head on your shoulders – to think in a more mature way e.g. Even though he’s only 17, he’s got an old head on his shoulders.
How to use this language in writing
This language is great for essays because it can help you with
using more precise language
When you have a question about a topic and you are trying to think of things to say, you can ask yourself how that topic affects different age groups. For example, if you have a question about technology and communication then you can ask yourself how different generations react to technology and communication. This can often give you more ideas than if you think about people in general. For instance,
the elderly may not be computer literate and prefer face to face communication
younger generations who have grown up with computers and smart phones may prefer to use social media
How to use this language in speaking
You can often do the same thing in speaking when you are asked about what people do/think. A very natural way to extend your answer is to talk about different groups or ages of people. You can have twice as much to say! Look at this example:
What types of music are popular in your country?
Well, I guess most young people prefer to listen to pop music and dance music. But people of my parent’s generation either tend to listen to classical music or our country’s folk music. There’s a bit of a generation gap I suppose.
More reading and resources
If you’re looking for more information on different generations I suggest you start here