Is There a Hyphen in “Year Old?”

Whether you should hyphenate “year old” is one of those little grammatical issues that isn’t really an issue at all. This phrase follows the same rules as other compound adjectives, which are two or more words linked with hyphens to show the phrase is part of the same adjective. Except, you know, for when they aren’t hyphenated.

Confused? Don’t be. The rule is straightforward.

“Year Old” as a Noun

hyphen year old

If the phrase “year old” is used as a noun or comes before a noun, hyphenate it:

  • My ten-year-old computer takes five minutes to boot up.
  • That six-year-old paints like Jackson Pollock.
  • A six-year-old doughnut is no longer edible.

“Year Old” as an Adjective

So far, so good. Sometimes, “years old” is used as an adjective phrase that follows the noun, in which case you don’t hyphenate anything. The phrase also becomes plural if the age of the person or object is plural: your computer is one year old, but your friend is thirty years old.

  • My computer is ten years old and takes five minutes to boot up.
  • Jim is one year old and paints like Jackson Pollack.
  • That doughnut was six years old. I think I chipped a tooth trying to eat it.

Compound Adjectives and Phrases

As we noted, hyphenating or not hyphenating “year old” or “years old” is part of a larger grammatical rule governing compound adjectives. The same rule applies if you’re discussing two-seater airplanes, five-foot-tall men, or part-time security guards. For instance, when the compound is used as an adjective preceding a noun, you hyphenate:

  • The two-seater airplane was small and uncomfortable.
  • The five-foot-tall man had trouble seeing the stage at the concert.
  • The part-time security guard didn’t notice the vandals.

You also hyphenate when the compound phrase is used as a noun:

  • He flew the single-engine two-seater through a blizzard.
  • Large for his age, the four-year-old was five feet tall.

You don’t, however, hyphenate when using a compound adjective as an adjective clause following the noun:

  • The plane’s single engine couldn’t provide enough horsepower to lift the heavy payload.
  • The man only stood five feet tall.
  • The security guard only worked part time and didn’t want to risk his life confronting the vandals.

Check out these other posts about punctuation:

Aw, That Damn Dash: What’s the Difference Between En and Em Dashes?

English Grammar 101: When to Hyphenate Adjectives

Resources

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/are-you-using-hyphens-correctly
http://www.grammar-monster.com/lessons/adjectives_compound_adjectives.htm

One thought on “Hyphens and “Year Old” Phrases: When to Use Them

  1. website says:

    Discovered your post fascinating to peruse. I cannot hold up to see your post soon. Good Luck for the up and coming update. This article is truly extremely fascinating and successful.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
despite or in spite of

English Grammar 101: Despite or In Spite Of?

Jan 17, 2012 in Grammar

Confused about the difference (if there is any) between these two terms—despite or in spite of—that are often used interchangeably? Check out our quick tip…

principal vs principle

Grammar 101: Principle vs Principal

Oct 12, 2017 in Grammar

“Principal” and “principle” are two similar terms that are very easy to confuse, and even experienced writers sometimes mix the two words up. In this…

punctuation tips

English Grammar 101: Do I Put the Period Inside or Outside the Quotation Marks?

Jun 25, 2013 in Grammar

Do I put the period inside or outside the quotation marks? Short Answer The period always goes inside the quotation marks. (This, however, is not…

Subscribe to Our Blog

Subscribe via RSS