Submitted by brie  •  May 2, 2009

Dashes when saying year-olds

I have a question about when to use hyphens. For example, do I have a five-year-old dog or a five year-old dog?

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"wesleyabridle
I say the hyphens are over used here. We are progressing away from Latin, not regressing back."

What are you talking about? Hyphens were not used in Latin at all. Heck, the Romans did not even use spaces between words! What would they have wanted hyphens for?

And in what sense are we " progressing away from Latin"? Language development is not progressive. (And English did not develop from Latin, not mainly, anyway.)

Anyway, I agree with those who say we need two hyphens: "five-year-olds."

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"A bunch of five year-olds" suggests that there are five of them, and they're around the age of one.

Sorry, I disagree. A "bunch" suggests a bunch, meaning that there can't be a bunch of five one-year olds. That would be like saying, I have several five pairs of tickets to the show tonight. Okay, you can rationalize the meaning and try to make sense out of that, but English is not spoken this way. However, adding the second hyphen is important to make it one word, which is another way to think about it. He is a five-year-old boy, not a five-year old boy and not a five year-old boy. It's easier to read too.

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"a bunch of 5 year-olds" seems like there are 5 kids each aged 1 year.

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Looking at Dyske's four options, I'd pick the first. The last might be OK but I'd steer clear of the middle two.

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A five-year-old boy played with a dog that was three years old.

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Helps the eye to link them up. The hyphenization of the whole phrase establishes that the whole phrase is the modifier, and it processes a nanosecond or two faster than NO hyphens, which makes the reader do the linking for himself in hindsight. In any case, using only ONE hyphen, in either position, risks changing the meaning, as Izzy notes.

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Keep the hyphen. If you didn't have it, there might be some confusion as to how many dogs and how old they are. From dyske's post:

"A bunch of five year-olds" suggests that there are five of them, and they're around the age of one.

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I say the hyphens are over used here. We are progressing away from Latin, not regressing back.

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From <strong>CollinsCobuild:</strong>

<blockquote><strong>-year-old</strong> combines with numbers to describe the age of people or things. <em>She has a six-year-old daughter. ...their 200-year-old farmhouse in Ohio.</em>
<strong>-year-old</strong> also combines to form nouns. <em>Snow Puppies is a ski school for 3 to 6-year-olds</em>.</blockquote>

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You don't have to use it at all, but it might be easier to read if you do. I prefer to use it.

In a way, the hyphens put the words together to form an adjective.

Like, "Black-and-white cat."

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It's two hyphens. Five-year-old.

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Funny; I had the same exact problem just yesterday while writing for another blog.

a bunch of 5-year-olds
or
a bunch of 5-year olds
or
a bunch of 5 year-olds
or
a bunch of 5 year olds

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