How to Hyphenate Ages

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I saw a tweet about hyphenation earlier this week, and I thought this would make a good grammar tip, because I have to correct this almost every time I edit anything with ages.

This is going to be short and sweet. (Note: these are just grammatical examples. I do not actually have a seven-year-old.)

Correct: I have a seven-year-old.
Correct: I have a seven-year-old daughter.
Incorrect: I have a seven year old.

Correct: My daughter is seven years old.
Incorrect: My daughter is seven-years-old.

Here’s the difference: One example is using age as a noun (seven-year-old); one is using age as an adjective phrase (seven years old).

When using age as an adjective before a noun to modify it OR when using age itself as a noun, use hyphens.
When using age as an adjective phrase after a noun, do not use hyphens.

Here are more examples:

That lady looks like she’s eighty years old, but she’s only twenty! <–adjective phrase after a noun
That twenty-year-old looks like she’s eighty. <–noun
The twenty-year-old lady looks like she’s eighty. <– adjective before a noun

_________

I hope that helps! Feel free to leave any questions in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “How to Hyphenate Ages

  1. You’re right, Amanda. I think this one is difficult for those who do not write or edit much. Like other grammar rules, this one becomes natural once you deal with it a few times, but most writers, even somewhat experienced ones, can’t figure out when to and when not to hyphenate.

  2. Thanks so much. I didn’t realize I should hyphenate seven-year-old. I imagine this would be true for other ages also. LOL I know, not funny but I just had to do it.

  3. what about this phrase?
    “my dog, charlie, is eleven-years-old today.”
    is this meant to be hyphenated?

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