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Last updated at 14:29 BST, Tuesday, 03 August 2010

Youngsters and youths

A group of youths

The youth of today

A question from P.Vinayagam in India:
The words 'youth' and 'youngster' confuse me. Some call toddlers youngsters, and some, teenagers 'youngsters'. Also, can 'youth' be used as plural?

Gareth Rees answers:

Click below to hear the answer:

Hello. Thank you for writing to us with your question about the words youngster and youth, words which you say you are a little confused about. As someone who is not as young as he used to be, I can certainly say that I find youngsters and youths confusing, not in terms of the meaning of the words, but in terms of their lifestyles.

Anyway, back to the language question. Youngster does simply mean a young person, and whether you use it to refer to a toddler or a teenager is really up to you. As I said, I am not so young anymore, so for me, anyone under the age of eighteen is a youngster. However, a teenager is only likely to use the word to talk about toddlers and children under ten. So, youngster is a very flexible word as it doesn't have as specific a meaning as the words teenager and toddler.

The word youth is a little more complex, as it can refer to a young person, and also to the period of life when you are young. For example, in my youth, I often played football with my friends, but now I don't. Notice, that with this meaning, the word is an uncountable noun, so you can only say youth, not youths.

When youth refers to a person, it means that the person is not an adult, and most often it means that they are a teenager. So, a youth is not an adult, and yet not a child. We most often see this word used to talk about teenage boys who may be involved in minor crime, so it a word we see in newspapers or hear on the television news for example:

  • Yesterday, two youths attacked a man in the high street and stole his wallet.

As you can see, when youth refers to a person, it can be plural: one youth, two youths.

Besides referring to one or two individual young people, youth can also refer to young people as a group, or as a part of society. For example:

  • Politicians should consider the needs of the youth of the country, as well as the adults.
  • Youth unemployment is increasing again due to the financial crisis.

I hope that has helped clear up some of the confusion concerning youth and youngsters. Of course, it doesn't help me to understand why the only thing that youngsters seem interested in is playing computer games, but it is probably best if I don't try to understand that, and instead just settle down in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea and a good book.

About Gareth Rees

Gareth Rees

Gareth Rees has a BA (hons) in History and Philosophy of Science, CTEFLA, and DELTA. He has taught EFL, EAP and Business English in China, Spain and England, and he is the co-author of the Language Leader Elementary and Pre-Intermediate English language course books (Pearson Longman). He currently teaches English in the Language Centre at the University of the Arts, London.


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