Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dashing Off A Note About Ages

Graphic courtesy of stock.xchng
Hello again, dearies! Having just enjoyed a birthday, your Style Maven is inspired to discuss age.

Not my own mind you; Heavens, no. What we’re going to discuss today is the fact that while age is only a number (usually unlisted), it’s terribly important to write that number correctly. When age is included in a description, how does one hyphenate? More to the point, should a hyphen be used at all?

As usual, it boils down to usage. Since we’re all of an age (and quite clever enough) to learn by example, I’m going to show you when and how age terms should be hyphenated. Raise your hand once you catch on; you’re sure to pick it up straight away.

When I was twenty years of age, I purchased a five-year-old coat in a vintage shop.

A collection of thirty- to forty-year-old hats was found in the costume closet.

These shoes are three years old, but still very chic.

A six-year-old often has a unique sense of fashion.

Are you picking up the pattern? Lovely! I knew you’d get it right off. As you can see, ages can be hyphenated in both adjective and noun forms, with one or two exceptions. We do get one touch of consistency: these examples also apply to numeral forms. The Chicago Manual of Style does offer one bit of DIY advice regarding hyphens.

If you’re unable to find a suitable example, “hyphenate only if doing so will aid readability.”

And there we are; a lesson for the ages. Handle your hyphenation with care, and remember: A well-turned phrase is always in style!

Photo courtesy of Darrick Bartholomew

As cold weather approaches, your Style Maven has begun collecting scarves of all descriptions, and can often be found at the bottom of a large pile of colorful, fringed fabric. If she's not there, try looking for her online at The Procraftinator.


  1. I love this post, SM! The use of compound adjectives and nouns is so misunderstood by writers — at least among the ones I've worked with — and numbers head the list of incorrect usages. This is indeed timely as well as vital information. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :-)

  2. So glad to have you back with more tips and your acerbic with, SM. Thank you for clarifying all the ages.

  3. Posts like these make me glad my editor has my back.

  4. Great post! It can all get very confusing sometimes!

  5. Okay, I have a question about the hyphenated "noun" form. I see no difference between "five-year-old coat" and a "six-year-old" [child]. Isn't the noun simply implied there, and the hyphenation is because it really is an adjective?

    If my question makes the Style Maven testy, please disregard. ;) But this did get me wondering whether nouns could be implied.

    Thank you!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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