Years old: Hyphen or no hyphen?

 

Today we’re discussing when to hyphenate the phrases years old and year old.

Let’s take a look at two sentences:

His son is four years old.
He has a four year old boy.

In the first sentence, you would not use hyphens. In the second sentence, you would, making it four-year-old boy. This is because the phrase four year old is modifying the noun boy.

A good clue to determine whether you should hyphenate the year old phrase is to see if a noun comes after it. If there is a noun, hyphenate:

six-year-old toy
fifty-year-old whiskey
eight-year-old cat

If the sentence is simply stating that someone or something is so many years old, then don’t use a hyphen:

Her dad turned sixty years old today.
His baseball card is seventy years old.

Quiz
Determine whether the words in italics should be hyphenated. The answers are at the bottom.

1) Sasha is eight years old.
2) She has a three year old turtle.
3) Maddie is a five year old girl.
4) The painting is one hundred years old.
5) He ate the hamburger that was fourteen years old.
6) He ate a fourteen year old hamburger.

Answers:

1) not hyphenated 2) hyphenated; three-year-old turtle 3) hyphenated; five-year-old girl. 4) not hyphenated 5) not hyphenated 6) hyphenated; fourteen-year-old hamburger.

Erin Servais has more than a decade of copy editing experience. Learn more about working with her on your next project: dotanddashllc.com

Advertisements

16 thoughts on “Years old: Hyphen or no hyphen?

  1. I thought you might also add to this post the variation of when we refer to a person by their age, without any other modifiers: “Only a ninety-year old would say such a funny thing.” Or, “I have two kids, a three-year old and a ten-year old.” I’m not sure the best way to articulate the rule, but I’ve done it correctly, right? Just checking.

    • No, not right. You can’t hyphenate half of a phrase, It’s either “a ninety-year-old” or “a ninety year old”. I’m not sure which. I was hoping this site would help, but no 😦

      • Actually, you would hyphenate it (“a 90-year-old”) because the noun is implied. Also, most style books recommend using digits for numbers 10 and above. There are exceptions (if you were talking about “twenty 13-year-old boys”, for example, as “20 13-year-old boys” would look too confusing). Hope that helps.

      • Actually, you would hyphenate it (“a 90-year-old”) because the noun is implied. Also, most style books recommend using digits for numbers 10 and above. There are exceptions (if you were talking about “twenty 13-year-old boys”, for example, as “20 13-year-old boys” would look too confusing). Hope that helps.

      • I think “a ninety-year-old,” while treated as a noun unto itself, is actually an adjective for a noun that has been dropped: “a ninety-year-old person.” The trailing noun can only be dropped because it is understood/implied, and goes without saying. But we would still hyphenate “ninety-year-old” as any other phrase with a noun coming after it.

  2. In CP (Canadian Press) style, fourteen would be written as a number, as in: a 14-year-old hamburger (eating it is OUT of the question 😉 ). Does AP style not have the same guideline?

  3. What if it’s in a series, as in one- two- and three-year-olds? Should there be commas to separate them as in one-, two-, and three-year-olds? It doesn’t look right. Or should it be written without the dashes as in one, two, and three-year-olds?

  4. I have the same question as Kevin. It is my understanding that, when used as a noun, no hyphens are used. The fourteen year old at the donut. The fourteen-year-old girl at the donut. But I’m not sure and have been scouring the internet to find out. This site did not help!

  5. A ninety-seven year old woman
    A twenty-five year old man
    An eleven year old girl
    A seven year old boy

    A twenty-five year old man and his twenty-two year old wife
    A thirty-three year old woman with her seven year old son and eight year old daughter

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s