Years old: Hyphen or no hyphen?

Cake with a number three candle

This cake celebrates someone who is three years old. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

This post teaches 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.

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.


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 is a book editor and author coach. Learn more about working with her on your next project:


24 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.

    • 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?

    • You would hyphenate: “Even now, as a thirty-year-old [person, man-child, whatever]…”

      [Full disclosure: I am much older than thirty, and still like Lucky Charms.]

  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

  6. What about a plural combination such as: the playground was dominated by 10- and 12-year-old boys.
    Is it correct to place a hyphen with the 10?

    • Follow the same conventions as written numbers in general: that is, always spell out numbers less than ten (or, if you prefer, less than 100). So, you should always spell out “one-year-old toddler” but it’s up to you whether you write “16-year-old girls” or “sixteen-year-old girls.”

  7. Thank you so much, in fact after 29 years and seven months living in this lovely land, this is the first time I’ve learned when to use year and years.
    Best regards

  8. Hi and welcome to my webpage. I’m Shyla Barker.
    I have always dreamed of being a book writer but never dreamed I’d make a career of it. In college, though, I aided a fellow student who needed help. She could not stop telling me how well I had done. Word got around and someone asked me for to help them just a week later. This time they would pay me for my work.
    During the summer, I started doing academic writing for students at the local college. It helped me have fun that summer and even funded some of my college tuition. Today, I still offer my writing skills to students.

    Writing Specialist – Shyla – Paperhaberdasher Band

  9. Is the age describing a noun? Does the age precede a noun? If the answer is yes to these two questions, hyphenate. In the following examples, notice how the two conditions are met.

  10. Pingback: yo years old – WDF

Leave a Reply

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

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s