Top Tips for IELTS

Age words and idioms

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

Almost 30

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

Young people

One way to talk about children is to categorise them by the type of school they go to


young people



school-age children

primary school children

secondary school children 

school leavers

university students

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.

Older people

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

older people

the elderly

the retired

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 groups

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 [40] – 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

Generations X, Y Z and others


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7 Responses to Age words and idioms

  1. mohammed hamdan October 31, 2016 at 11:21 am #

    HI Dominic, I’m a big fan of your work and I’ll be glad if you have a look on my essay written below

    The question is “some cultures value old age while others value youth, discuss both views and give your opinion”.

    Nowadays, in our modern world, we have two different perspectives: some nations as china and Egypt pay homage to old people unlike the others which value the youngsters, in this essay I will discuss both opinions and state my opinion.

    No doubt that old people are highly valuable for any country because they are fully experienced with life situations as a result of passing through extremely hard circumstances along their long lives and so they are wonderfully insightful and far-sighted. Consequently they always can give the right advice and helpful consult. For example in my country Egypt, former prime minister, Ibrahim Mehleb was picked up as new projects consultant for president EL-sisi.

    On the other hand, some nations, mostly western nations like USA, England, and Canada value the youth because they consider them as a building -countries fuel .youth means vitality, efficiency and ability to think creatively. AS a consequence all western governments consists of young ministers between thirty and forty five years old .For instance, Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, he was 44 years old when he was elected as a prime minister, also elected as a leader of the liberal party when he was 42 and was elected as a member of the Canadian parliament when he was 38 years old.

    All in all, opposite views had apparent presence in our recent days about aged people and young people.
    Eastern nations are in favor of old people. Conversely, western nations support young people. Personally, I believe that both aged and young people have an equal role alongside to play in prosperity and welfare plans for any country.

  2. mohammed hamdan November 1, 2016 at 10:58 am #

    hi dominic please reply

    • Dominic Cole November 1, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

      I will have a quick look but I’m afraid you’ll have to be a little patient.

  3. mohammed hamdan November 1, 2016 at 3:41 pm #

    thanks Dominic. appreciated take your time I’ll wait

  4. mohammed hamdan November 2, 2016 at 9:10 am #

    I’m waiting here Dominic !!!!! do you have Facebook account to contact ????

  5. mohammed hamdan November 3, 2016 at 11:41 am #

    it took too long to check this essay !!!!!!!!!!! please reply

  6. mohammed hamdan November 4, 2016 at 10:48 pm #

    thanks a lot I don’t need your help

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