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

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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 is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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Feet vs. feat

feet: plural of foot
feat: a deed notable especially for courage; an act or product of skill, endurance, or ingenuity
—Merriam-Webster

Feet and feat are homophones, which means they sound the same but have different meanings. Feet can mean the unit of measurement or the two body parts dangling from the bottom of your legs. Feat is an act you do that deserves awe.

Examples of feet
Stan bought three feet of licorice.
Stan’s feet are huge; he wears a size fifteen shoe.

Examples of feat
Stan pulled quite a feat when he finished his twelve-page paper in three hours.
Stan’s epic battle against the zombies was a courageous feat.

Quiz
Fill in either feet or feat in the blanks below. The answers are at the bottom.

1. Tina’s _______ can’t fit in my shoes because they’re too small.
2. Tina’s _______ of getting eight guys’ phone numbers in one night will go down in history.
3. Tina’s tape measurer goes to four _______.
4. “Wow! What a _______!” Tina said after she witnessed a stranger fend off a mugger.

Answers:

1. feet 2. feat 3. feet 4. feat

You and I vs. you and me

It seems many of us are still reeling from elementary school teachers who overcorrected use of the pronoun I. How many times did you hear a knitted-sweatered, thin-lipped woman of authority say, “It’s ‘May Johnny and I go to the restroom, not Johnny and me.’”

As a result, many people think me is never appropriate when it actually is. If this is a problem you struggle with, don’t worry. You’re in good company. I hear and I used incorrectly more than I hear it used correctly. In this post I’ll teach you a simple trick to figure out when to use I or me.

Is this sentence correct?

I made dinner reservations for Rex and I.

Incorrect. In this sentence it should be Rex and me. But how can you tell?

Hint: To find out whether to use I or me, simply drop the name or pronoun that goes before and and the word and. Then see if the sentence makes sense. Let’s look at the example again.

I made dinner reservations for Rex and I.

Now drop Rex and.

I made dinner reservations for I.

 

 

Now this sentence sounds wrong, so you know it should be me. Let’s fix it.

I made dinner reservations for Rex and me.

Bingo! Now it’s correct. Let’s try another one.

Rex and me are going to the Renaissance festival.

Drop Rex and.

Me is going to the Renaissance festival.

This sounds wrong, so you know it should be I.

Rex and I are going to the Renaissance festival.

Between you and me
The phrase between you and me is often said incorrectly as between you and I. Between is a preposition, and me is used with prepositions. Here are more prepositions with me:

with: Rex walked with you and me.
to: Rex gave the present to you and me.
from: The letter is from you and me.
between: Between you and me, I think Rex is cute.

If you see a preposition, you know you should use me.

Quiz
Test your skills with this quiz. Fill in the blank with either I or me. The answers are at the bottom.

1. Sandra and _______ are good friends.
2. Would you like to go to the party with Sandra and _______?
3. The flowers are for my mom and _______.
4. Between you and _______, I’m ready for the weekend.
5. She set the appointment for Sandra and _______.
6. May Rex and ______ go to lunch with you?
7. Rex and _______ want to treat you to lunch.

Answers:
1. I 2. me 3. me 4. me 5. me 6. I 7. I

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Misbelief and disbelief

Kevin was in disbelief. How could his parents leave without him?

Kevin was in disbelief. How could his parents leave without him?

disbelief: mental rejection of something as untrue
misbelief: erroneous or false belief
—Merriam-Webster

To keep these two words straight, consider this: Misbelief is when something is untrue. Disbelief is when you think something is untrue (regardless of whether it is). Disbelief tends to deal with thoughts and opinions. Misbelief deals with facts.

Examples
Ralph was in complete disbelief. He didn’t think Suzie could have stolen the lollipop.
It is a misbelief that George has three toes. He only has two.

It is a misbelief that the religion’s followers have to surgically attach octopus tentacles to their necks.
The leader stood in disbelief when he heard the rumor. “People believe that?” he asked.

Quiz
Fill in the blanks with either disbelief or misbelief. The answers are at the bottom.

1. No one thought Percy would finally propose. They were in _______ when Frank showed the ring on his finger.
2. You can believe a _______, but it will still be untrue.
3. When the kids explained that a dragon broke the antique lamp, their parents met the tale with _______.
4. It is a common _______ that Paul only eats sauerkraut after midnight. He usually eats it at seven p.m.

 

Answers:

1. disbelief 2. misbelief 3. disbelief 4. misbelief

Principal vs. principle

principal: most important, consequential, or influential
principle: a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption
—Merriam–Webster

I still remember one of my elementary school teachers teaching me this tip to remember the correct endings of these two words. She’d say, “The principal is your pal.” While this may have painted an overly rosy view of people who hold the “most important, consequential, or influential” positions within schools (I’m looking at you, Mr. Saxton), it worked.

Example: Mr. Saxton was a really mean principal. He was so not my pal.

However, principal doesn’t have to refer to a person who has that as a title. It can refer to just about anything that has been given the most important, consequential, or influential role.

Example: Chocolate is the principal ingredient in the dessert.
Example: The principal thought to take away from the lesson is: cat videos are funny.

Note that in the first example sentence, principal is a noun. Meanwhile, in the last two sentences, principal is an adjective. Principal can be both a noun and an adjective. However, principle can only be a noun.

Here are some examples of principle:

Example: Ralph had a set of strict principles he used to guide his actions.
Example: It took Steve years to learn the top two principles of being a good step-father: grow a mustache and buy lots of presents.

Quiz:
Test your knowledge with this quiz. Fill in either principal or principle in the blanks. The answers are below.

1. The _______ reason Paula broke up with Paul is because his armpits smelled.
2. After reading the handbook, Lawrence knew the _______ that governed his workplace.
3. Martha misbehaved in class, so she had to meet with the school’s _______.
4. Liz found the religion’s _______ to be flawed, so she stopped going to church.
5. The _______ weapon in their arsenal failed, and the enemy was able to enter their territory.

Answers:

1. principal 2. principle 3. principal 4. principle 5. principal