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:


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.

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

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

Back to basics: metaphors and similes

metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them
simile: a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as

Both metaphors and similes explain that one thing is similar to another thing. They are tools to describe the world, often using poetic, dramatic language.

Metaphor is the overarching category of this type of description. Similes are a type of metaphor. However, we can identify similes because they use the words like or as to do their describing.

Examples of metaphors
Paul is a robot, mindlessly chugging through the workday without emotion.
After the surgery, Joe was a rag doll with stuffing poking through his seams.

We can assume that Paul and Joe are humans, but the metaphors help us understand that they are like something else. In the first sentence, Paul is compared to a robot. In the second sentence, Joe is compared to a rag doll.

However, metaphors don’t have to be so direct, as in saying, “Thing A is thing B.” Note these examples:

The mountain of debt ruined her credit.
The sea of people ran into the street.

Here, debt and people are compared to mountain and sea, respectively. Yet, they are not written directly, as in, “The debt is a mountain.”

Examples of similes
The book is like a rocket ship for my brain.
Your dancing is as weird as a polar bear juggling a penguin.

Like in the first set of examples, both sentences compare one thing to another. But, this time we know they are similes because they use like and as. The first sentence uses like to connect book to rocket ship. The second sentence uses as to connect dancing to polar bear.

Read the sentences below and decide if each is a simile or metaphor. The answers are at the bottom.

1. Kim’s stench is like rotten eggs in a trashcan.
2. Moe is an elephant. He remembers everything.
3. The gerbil is her sun, the center of her galaxy.
4. The black hole of doubt caused Sheila to put off making her decision.
5. He’s hungry as a hippo.
6. It’s raining men. Hallelujah! It’s raining men.


1. simile 2. metaphor 3. metaphor 4. metaphor 5. simile 6. metaphor

Meow! Miau! Nyan!

I happen to be obsessed with a little Japanese kitty who has a Pop Tart for a body and leaves a rainbow trail every time he moves. His name is Nyan, and he stars in a simple but deceivingly addictive video game of the same name. At first I thought the kitty’s name was Nyan just because . . . well, it was. But it turns out that nyan is the sound cats make in Japan.

In English, we’re used to our moos and oinks and woofs and meows, but animals don’t make the same sounds in other countries. Or, rather, the people speaking the languages don’t interpret the sounds the same way.

Take our Nyan cat, for example. In Japan, he says nyan. In the United States, he says meow. In Germany, it’s miau; and, in France, it’s miaou.

Here are other examples of what animals say across the globe:

English: tweet
French: cui cui
Greek: tsiou tsiou
Portuguese: pio
Swedish: pip-pip

English: moo
Finnish: ammuu
French: meuh
Japanese: mau mau
Spanish: meee

English: woof
French: ouah
German: wau
Greek: gav
Japanese: wan

English: cock-a-doodle-do
French: cocorico
Hebrew: coo-koo-ri-koo
Japanese: ko-ke-kok-ko-o
Portuguese: cucurucu

English: ribbit
Dutch: kwak kwak
Finnish: kvaak
Italian: cra cra
Japanese: kero kero

English: oink oink
French: groin groin
German: grunz
Japanese: boo boo
Russian: hrgu-hrgu

Want to learn more?
Here’s the page where I found all of these lovely words. Want to know the noise a donkey, moose, or crocodile makes? Check it out.

Here’s a link to a great ESL page where you can hear sound clips of native speakers saying the animal sounds.

-ization station

lesson: learning the meaning of the suffix –ization

This room needs some organization.

Realization. Industrialization. Immobilization. We use words ending in the suffix -ization so frequently that many native English speakers might not know what –ization even means and how adding it changes the meaning of a word.

-ization: action, process, or result of making

When we add –ization to the words realize, industrial, and immobile (like we did at the beginning of this post), here’s how their meanings change:

realization: the action of realizing; the state of being realized

Example: This house is the realization of years of planning and building.
In other words: Years of planning and building realized the end product of this house.

industrialization: to make industrial

Example: The industrialization of countries is a major factor in improving economic viability.
In other words: Making countries industrialized is a major factor in improving economic viability.

immobilization: to make immobile

Example: The immobilization of her broken leg aided in its healing.
In other words: Immobilizing her broken leg aided in its healing.

List of –ization words

actualization maximization
alphabetization modernization
Americanization nationalization
brutalization normalization
capitalization optimization
categorization organization
colonization personalization
commercialization randomization
decentralization revitalization
deodorization sanitization
equalization symbolization
externalization summarization
fossilization terrorization
generalization traumatization
globalization unionization
hospitalization utilization
initialization vandalization
legalization vaporization
liberalization visualization
magnetization winterization

You can find a longer list of –ization words here.

Alternatives to –ization
Recently, I saw the word professionalization, and I thought, “What an ugly word.” Adding –ization to words often turns them into five syllable plus tongue twisters.

If you also feel that the suffix –ization lacks a certain elegance, there are ways to avoid adding it to the word you’d like to use. For instance, there are many times when you can rewrite a sentence so you simply use the root word.

Here are some examples:

Original: The popularization of vampire movies is astounding.
Rewrite: It’s astounding how popular vampire movies are.

Original: The revitalization of downtown is important.
Rewrite: It is important that we revitalize downtown.

Original: We must achieve optimization of our skills.
Rewrite: We must optimize our skills.

What do you think?
Do you like using –ization words? Or do you find them to be overly complicated? What are your methods to avoid using –ization words? Share your thoughts in the comments section.