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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Types of questions

Is his eye falling out? His eye is falling out, isn't it?I wonder if his eye will fall out.

Is his eye falling out?
His eye is falling out, isn’t it?
I wonder if his eye will fall out.

Today we will discuss three types of questions: direct questions, tag questions, and indirect questions. We will also learn how to distinguish these types of questions and determine whether they require a question mark.

Direct questions
This is the most obvious form of question. Direct questions often begin with one of these words: why, what, where, how, when, if, are, will, can, how, is, do, should, could, would, or were. A question mark goes at the end of the sentence.

 

Examples:

How can you eat asparagus?
Where are my glasses?
Are you feeling okay?
Is this the path to world domination?
Would you feed my donkey tomorrow?

Tag questions
These questions turn a statement into a question. You can recognize tag questions because they usually contain a helping verb (examples: are, should, does, were, would) and a pronoun (examples: he, she, you, I) at the end. Often, they also contain the word not, which is usually abbreviated (n’t). A question mark goes at the end of the sentence.

Examples:

The plants are dying, aren’t they?
Your vacation was fun, was it?
He set the house on fire, didn’t he?
She should eat more asparagus, shouldn’t she?
You would like a new mousetrap, wouldn’t you?
You were at the hospital, were you?

Sometimes a single word can go at the end of a statement to change it into a tag question. Examples are: yes, no, right, and correct.

Examples:

That was the last donut, yes?
He just got out of jail yesterday, no?
She fixed the toilet, right?
We turn left, correct?

Indirect questions
This type is trickier. An indirect question notes the existence of a question, but it does not actually ask a question. A question mark does not go at the end.

Example:

The doctor asked if she knew she had two hearts.

This sentence acknowledges the doctor had a question, but the doctor doesn’t ask the question directly in the sentence. To make it into a direct question, we could write:

Did you know you have two hearts?

Here are more examples of indirect questions:

The alien wondered whether he could fix his spaceship.
I asked her if I could borrow her pickle.
My neighbor wondered if I would turn my music down.

Quiz
Read each sentence and determine if it is a direct question, a tag question, or an indirect question. Then decide if it needs a question mark.

1. Buffy took her pills, correct
2. Don asked if he could go to the bathroom
3. Ralph went to the theater tonight, didn’t he
4. Did you eat my squash
5. Mary should be a trapeze artist, shouldn’t she
6. I wonder if he will boogie
7. Are you going to be in the parade

Answers:
1. tag question, question mark 2. indirect question, no question mark 3. tag question, question mark 4. direct question, question mark 5. tag question, question mark 6. indirect question, no question mark 7. direct question, question mark

AP vs. Chicago

The Onion posted a funny (well, funny to me) article yesterday about copy editing:

4 Copy Editors Killed In Ongoing AP Style, Chicago Manual Gang Violence

NEWS IN BRIEF • News Media • News • ISSUE 49•01 • Jan 7, 2013
  • NEW YORK—Law enforcement officials confirmed Friday that four more copy editors were killed this week amid ongoing violence between two rival gangs divided by their loyalties to the The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual Of Style. “At this time we have reason to believe the killings were gang-related and carried out by adherents of both the AP and Chicago styles, part of a vicious, bloody feud to establish control over the grammar and usage guidelines governing American English,” said FBI spokesman Paul Holstein, showing reporters graffiti tags in which the word “anti-social” had been corrected to read “antisocial.” “The deadly territory dispute between these two organizations, as well as the notorious MLA Handbookgang, has claimed the lives of more than 63 publishing professionals this year alone.” Officials also stated that an innocent 35-year-old passerby who found himself caught up in a long-winded dispute over use of the serial, or Oxford, comma had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

This is obvious hyperbole about a real note of contention among punctuation slingers.

There are notable differences between these two styles. For starters, Associated Press style is aimed at newspapers. It’s founded on the idea that people must write briefly so as much information as possible can fit onto pages. Thus, only numbers one through ten are written out (numerals are used for higher numbers), state names use the postal code, and the Oxford (or serial) comma is nowhere to be found.

Chicago is focused on other publications, such as books. Space limits are not a focus, so numbers through one hundred are spelled out, state names are spelled out, and my beloved Oxford comma retains its prideful position.

Are you interested in learning more about the differences between these two styles? Here’s a link to AP vs. Chicago, a blog about the subject.

Inside or outside: question marks, exclamation points, and quotation marks

How dare you say that this photo of Blossom “doesn’t make sense with the blog post”!

In American English, periods go inside quotation marks. However, this is not always the case with exclamation points and question marks. Whether these punctuation marks go inside or outside quotation marks depends on context.

If the quote is a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes inside the quotation marks.

Examples:
Monica asked, “Have you seen my lighter fluid?”
Hank screamed, “Ow! My face is on fire!”

“I can’t believe you sold my baseball cards!” Sarah shouted to her brother.
“How else was I going to fund my start-up company?” her brother asked.

If the quote is not a question or exclamation, the punctuation mark goes outside of the quotation marks. You’ll often see this when someone is referencing something another person said.

Examples:
Did she tell me to “go jump off a bridge”?
I can’t believe she told me to “enjoy eating some mashed peas”!

Did Paul say that “all you need is love”?
Only a rich guy would say that “all you need is love”!

Quiz
Test your skills with a quiz. After the sentence is either exclamation point or question mark in parentheses. Choose whether the punctuation mark goes inside our outside of the quotation marks. The answers are at the bottom.

1. I’m so mad she said, “Honey, collate all these papers” (exclamation point)
2. “Could you hand me the large sword” Lily asked. (question mark)
3. Stephanie screamed, “Stop pinching me” (exclamation point)
4. Did you ask me to “stop and smell the roses” (question mark)
5. “How much money do you have in your wallet” Ted asked. (question mark)
6. It’s amazing the doctor said so calmly that he “had two hearts” (exclamation point)

1. outside 2. inside 3. inside 4. outside 5. inside 6. outside

Erin Servais is a freelance copy editor and copywriter. To learn how to hire her for your next project, go to www.dotanddashllc.com.

Ouch! That comma splices!

Lesson: how to correctly join independent clauses

 

Take a look at this sentence.

The Martians want to look their best, they wear their green jumpsuits.

There is something wrong here. (And it’s not that the Martians think jumpsuits are high fashion.) Notice the comma between best and they? That’s called a comma splice. Sounds painful, doesn’t it?

The comma splice is a common error in sentence construction. When the parts of the sentence on each side of the comma can stand alone as separate sentences (These are called independent clauses.), you can’t use a comma to separate them.

Don’t fear. There are several remedies to the comma splice.

1. Separate into two sentences
Because independent clauses can function as separate sentences, you can use a period to separate them. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best. They wear their green jumpsuits.

In some instances, it might also make sense to use a question mark to separate the independent clauses, such as in this comma splice example:

Did the Martians look silly in their green jumpsuits, yes they did.

Since the first independent clause is actually a question, you’ll want to place a question mark after it. Here is how this correction looks:

Did the Martians look silly in their green jumpsuits? Yes they did.

In other instances, you may want to use an exclamation point to separate the independent clauses, such as in this comma splice example:

The martians look ridiculous, green jumpsuits are ugly.

Because the first independent clause lends itself to more emphasis, you could use an exclamation point after it. This correction looks like this:

The martians look ridiculous! Green jumpsuits are ugly.

2. Separate with a comma and a coordinating conjunction
Coordinating conjunctions are the words and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. These words join parts of a sentence together. In sentences with more than one independent clause, they work with a comma to separate the clauses. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best, so they wear their green jumpsuits.

3. Separate with a semicolon
If both independent clauses deal with the same general idea, then you can separate them with a semicolon. Here’s how this correction looks:

The Martians want to look their best; they wear their green jumpsuits.

However, if the independent clauses are not about the same general idea, then the semicolon isn’t the best option. For example, take a look at this comma splice example:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits, they eat purple custard.

The first independent clause deals with wearing clothes. The second deals with eating food. Since these two ideas are not related, a semicolon shouldn’t connect them. To make it correct, you would want to use option 1:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits. They eat purple custard.

or option 2:

The Martians wear their green jumpsuits, and they eat purple custard.

Voilà. That’s how you fix comma splices. (Just try to stay away from Martians. I heard they’re poor dressers.)