Chinese Words for Old:旧(jiù=old) vs老(lǎo=old)

By Sujanti Djuanda – LingoLearn Chinese Teacher

Ia. 旧(jiù=old) is often used for things have changed/broken after being used for a long time.


My old cell phone has dropped and broken carelessly.

我的(wǒde)旧(jiù)手机(shǒu​jī=cell phone)不(bù)小心(xiǎo​xīn=careful)摔坏(shuāi​huài=to drop and break)了(le)。

2a. 老(lǎo=old, aged) is used for people, animal, plant and thing.

Example 1a:

Today the old man will go to see old houses.

老公公(lǎogōnggong=old (age) man)今天(jīn​tiān=today)要(yào=will)去(qù=go​)看(kàn=to see​)老(lǎo=old (age))房子(fáng​zi=house)。


老(lǎo=old)房子(fángzi=house) means “the house was built a long time ago but the building is still good.”

Compared with Example 1b:

Today the old man will go to see worn houses.

老公公(lǎogōnggong=old (age) man)今天(jīn​tiān=today)要(yào=will)去(qù=go​)看(kàn=to see​)旧(jiù=old)房子(fángzi=house)。


旧(jiù=old)房子(fángzi=house) means “the house has worn out and can’t be lived in anymore.”

Compared with Example 1c:

Today the old man will go to see ancient houses.

老公公(lǎogōnggong=old (age) man)今天(jīn​tiān=today)要(yào=will)去(qù=go​)看(kàn=to see​)古(gǔ=ancient)房子(fángzi=house)。


古(gǔ​=ancient)房子(fáng​zi=house) means “the house was built in ancient times. It can also be called as 老(lǎo=old)房子(fángzi=house), but老(lǎo=old)房子(fángzi=house) is not necessarily古(gǔ=ancient)房子(fángzi=house).

b. (lǎo=old) is used to show respect to elderly people or aged and experienced professional.


Mr Wang, this is Chinese Doctor Zhu.

(lǎo=old) (Wáng=Surname Wang),这(zhè=this)(shì=is)(Zhū=surname Zhu)(lǎo=aged, experienced)中医(zhōngyī=Chinese doctor)


$1n  (lǎo=old) + Surname => elderly people (above 40 years old)

$1n  Surname + (lǎo=aged, experienced) + person’s title => aged and experienced professional

c. 老(lǎo=old) is used for people you know for a long time.


$1n  老(lǎo=old)朋友(lǎo​péng​you= friend) old friend

$1n  老(lǎo=old)同学(tóng​xué​=classmate) old classmate

$1n  老(lǎo=old)同事(tóng​shì= colleague) old colleague

You cannot say:

(jiù=old)朋友(lǎopéngyou= friend)


旧(jiù=old)同事(tóng​shì= colleague)

d.老(lǎo=for a long time) is used when the cooking process has exceeded (overcooked).

Example 1:

BBQ kebabs are over roasted.

烤肉串(kǎo​ròu chuàn=barbecue kebabs)烤(kǎo=to roast)得(de)太(tài=too)老(lǎo=for a long time)了(le)。

Example 2:

The vegetables are over cooked.

菜(cài=vegetable)煮(zhǔ=to cook)得(de) 太(tài=too)老(lǎo=for a long time)了(le)。

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