Posted by: episystechpubs | September 26, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Hyphens and Ages

Hyphens. We’ve talked about them before, along with en dashes and em dashes (check out Editor’s Corner and search for en dash or em dash). Today, I’d like to focus on a specific use of hyphens: how to use hyphens when writing ages.

When to Use a Hyphen for Age

First, you have to figure out whether the age is being used as a noun (thing) or an adjective (description). In the case of age as a noun, you need hyphens. For example:

  • There were a bunch of 30-somethings hanging out in front of the old bookstore.
  • Whether you are a 10-year-old or a 90-year-old, you will enjoy the current performance at the Hidey-Hole Theater.

In both of those cases, you could replace the age with a noun, just to double-check what you’re working with:

  • There were a bunch of hooligans hanging out in front of the old bookstore.
  • Whether you are a child or an adult, you will enjoy the current performance at the Hidey-Hole Theater.

Additionally, if the age is used as an adjective to describe a noun, you use hyphens. For example:

  • The 13-year-old girl from Tukwila was the winner of the Puyallup Fair photography contest.
  • The camp required all 12- to 15-year-old boys to wash their own neckerchiefs.

To double-check this, you can replace the age with an adjective:

  • The funny girl from Tukwila was the winner of the Puyallup Fair photography contest.
  • The camp required all naughty boys to wash their own neckerchiefs.

When to Forgo the Hyphen for Age

Now, when the age is part of an adjectival phrase after the noun, you do not need any hyphens. For example:

  • Bobby has triplets that are four years old.
  • Dad turns 79 years old on his next birthday.
  • My favorite songs are probably all 35 years old.

So, in a 2-year-old nutshell, hyphenate an age when it is a noun or when it is an adjective that comes before a noun. Do not hyphenate an age that comes after the noun it modifies.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services


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