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Old 02-16-2009, 09:57 PM   #1
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year-old... two hyphen questions

Twelve-year-old Sarah

and

...three-thousand-year-old story


Am I over-hyphenating?
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Old 02-16-2009, 10:02 PM   #2
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First example's correct.

I'd drop the first hyphen in the second example, e.g. three thousand-year-old

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Old 02-16-2009, 10:30 PM   #3
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I agree with Derek completely.

As usual.

FWIW, you'd hyphenate compound adjectives (which these are) when they come before the nouns (Sarah, story) but not if they come after, unless it's needed for clarity. So it would be a three thousand-year-old story, but a story which is three thousand years old.

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Old 02-17-2009, 08:29 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
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You succeeded!

Thanks, guys!

(off to look up compound adjectives.)
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Old 02-17-2009, 05:50 PM   #5
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Save yourself the effort. I've got a copy-and-paste right here.

COMPOUND ADJECTIVES
A compound adjective is formed when two (or more) words are used together to describe or modify a noun.

TEMPORARY COMPOUND ADJECTIVES
A temporary compound adjective is formed when the two words together assume a different meaning than their separate meanings. Writers who form temporary compounds should generally hyphenate them when they are used as adjectives and appear before the noun. If the compound adjective appears after the noun, hyphenate only if it’s needed for clarity.

Examples of compound adjectives (all hyphenated because they are both temporary and come before the noun): hard-nosed boss, ill-fated voyage, mass-produced shoes, wacked-out psycho, thrown-together salad, up-to-the-minute news.

TO TEST...
Have you created a compound adjective, or just put two descriptive words together? To check, see if you can remove either word without making nonsense or changing the meaning of the remaining word. A tall frosty glass of beer still makes sense if either ‘tall’ or ‘frosty’ is removed, so it is not a compound. However, blue-ribbon pie requires both ‘blue’ and ‘ribbon’ and should therefore be hyphenated before the word ‘pie.’

NOTE:
Some compound adjectives change meaning, depending on whether they're hyphenated: a fast-sailing ship/a fast sailing ship, or free-form sculpture/free form sculpture.

COMPOUND NOUNS
A compound noun is formed when two (or more) words are used together to form a single concept.

Generally when they’re created they tend to start as two words, then become hyphenated as use becomes widespread, then finally joined into a single word by the time use is common, if indeed that happens.

Examples of compound nouns include motherfucker, speedboat, and textbook.


PERMANENT COMPOUNDS
When the compound is permanent, is accepted into the general vocabulary of English, and can (or should) be found in dictionaries, the trend in spelling has been away from hyphenating and toward spelling them "solid" or "closed" (i.e., as a single word). Examples of closed compounds: notebook, motorcycle, and bedroom.

Open compounds are combinations of words which constitute a single concept but are still spelled as separate words, often without a hyphen. Usually the only reason is that the words don't join well. Examples of open compounds are: stool pigeon, gun shot wound, and high school.

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Old 02-17-2009, 08:34 PM   #6
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Hm, so why would you guys leave off the hyphen after "three". That looks... wrong to me. The "three" is part of the compound, isn't it?
The three thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.

The three-thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.
How many spearheads? How old are they?
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Old 02-17-2009, 09:18 PM   #7
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Quote:
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Hm, so why would you guys leave off the hyphen after "three". That looks... wrong to me. The "three" is part of the compound, isn't it?
The three thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.

The three-thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.
How many spearheads? How old are they?
I've been wondering the same thing. So far, the most relevant examples I've found are:
The thirty-three-year-old man, but thirty-three is hyphenated anyway.

The 300-year-old painting, where the number is written as digits.
I realize the original example, with story singular, isn't ambiguous in the same way as this example, but is ambiguity the only consideration?
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Old 02-17-2009, 09:22 PM   #8
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I was thinking the same thing as Dawnstorm. Why wouldn't you put a hyphen after "three?"

The way I always understood it was that you hyphenate the words that are part of the compound adjective, and that's it. No question of ambiguity or anything.

But I'm not an English scholar, and maybe there is a valid reason for this other way...
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Old 02-17-2009, 10:13 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FennelGiraffe View Post
I realize the original example, with story singular, isn't ambiguous in the same way as this example, but is ambiguity the only consideration?
I wasn't quite clear, sorry. Actually, in my reading of the sentence, there is no ambiguity in:
The three thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.
There are three spearheads and they're around a thousand years old. To me, there is no other interpretation of this sentence, and only if my default doesn't make sense (as in the singular example) would I go looking for a different reading.

"The three thousand-year-old story" works - from my reader's perspective - because my default interpretation makes no sense. But I'd still notice the lack of hyphen.

I'm pretty certain that "the three-thousand-year-old story" is correct. I'd use that with no second thoughts. But up to this thread, I would also have corrected "the three thousand-year-old story" with no second thoughts - depending on context to: (a) "the three-thousand-year-old story" or (b) "the three thousand-year-old stories".

But since both dpaterso and Maryn would correct "the three-thousand-year-old story" to "the three thousand-year-old story" I have reason to question my own judgement. I'm not a native speaker, after all, and it's quite clear that both of them know their grammar. I'm honestly curious, here.
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Old 02-18-2009, 12:09 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
I wasn't quite clear, sorry. Actually, in my reading of the sentence, there is no ambiguity in:
The three thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.
Actually, I think it was my comment that wasn't clear.

Three?thousand-year-old spearheads can be read two ways, and the presence or absence of a hyphen after three is necessary to indicate which reading is appropriate. That's what I meant by "ambiguity".

Three?thousand-year-old story, on the other hand, has only one possible reading, whether or not a hyphen is present.

Before this, I would have said a hyphen was required when three was part of the compound adjective and omitted only when three was a separate adjective. However, I trust dpaterso and Maryn when they say omitting the hyphen is correct, so I'd really like to understand why.
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Old 02-18-2009, 05:02 AM   #11
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These examples from wikipedia (to be taken with a pinch of salt) should settle the matter.

Some strong examples of semantic changes caused by the placement of hyphens:

disease-causing poor nutrition, meaning poor nutrition that causes disease
disease causing poor nutrition, meaning a disease that causes poor nutrition
a man-eating shark is a shark that eats humans
a man eating shark is a man who is eating shark meat
a blue green sea is a contradiction
a blue-green sea is a sea whose colour is somewhere between blue and green
three-hundred-year-old trees are trees that are 300 years old.
three hundred-year-old trees are three trees that are 100 years old.
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Old 02-18-2009, 10:05 AM   #12
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Maryn, that's great, thanks.

However, I'd write "gunshot" instead of "gun shot." Anybody else, or am I the Lone Ranger in this one?
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Old 02-18-2009, 10:34 AM   #13
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Unless it's in dialogue, I think I would write it as 3000-year-old.

I spell out numbers between one and twenty.

Hyphenate numbers between twenty-one and ninety-nine.

Use figures for numbers higher, except for the exceptions that others have noted in the posts above.
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Old 02-18-2009, 10:05 PM   #14
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My head is spinning

You guys are making my head spin!

Two points:

1. The matter of using numerals like 3000 or written-out numbers like three thousand is a totally different issue.

2. As for the original question and some of its spin-offs, it is really a matter of clarity. You do not need to go beyond that in hyphenation.

If I were talking about spearheads that are 3000 years old, I would do it this way:

*The three-thousand year old spearheads were hard to find.*

The sentence is unambiguous unless someone wants to be argumentative and claim that it could theoretically be interpreted as:

*The three thousand year-old spearheads* (each one is one year old).

If you want complete lack of even theoretical ambiguity, you simply have to hyphenate everything:

*The three-thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.*

When you deal with problems like this, you have gone beyond rules of grammar and spelling, and you have to use good sense. We have gradually moved away from overhyphenation. I can remember a time when careful writers would probably have written:

*The three-thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.*

In fact, I might still do it that way, but I would re-emphasize that clarity is the only genuine goal.

The Chicago Manual of Style has a lot to say about this whole issue. I have not read it for a few years, but I think it stresses clarity as the issue.
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Old 02-24-2009, 06:58 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ComicBent View Post
You guys are making my head spin!

Two points:

1. The matter of using numerals like 3000 or written-out numbers like three thousand is a totally different issue.

2. As for the original question and some of its spin-offs, it is really a matter of clarity. You do not need to go beyond that in hyphenation.

If I were talking about spearheads that are 3000 years old, I would do it this way:

*The three-thousand year old spearheads were hard to find.*

The sentence is unambiguous unless someone wants to be argumentative and claim that it could theoretically be interpreted as:

*The three thousand year-old spearheads* (each one is one year old).

If you want complete lack of even theoretical ambiguity, you simply have to hyphenate everything:

*The three-thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.*

When you deal with problems like this, you have gone beyond rules of grammar and spelling, and you have to use good sense. We have gradually moved away from overhyphenation. I can remember a time when careful writers would probably have written:

*The three-thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.*

In fact, I might still do it that way, but I would re-emphasize that clarity is the only genuine goal.

The Chicago Manual of Style has a lot to say about this whole issue. I have not read it for a few years, but I think it stresses clarity as the issue.
What about writers who employ the use of numbers? I've seen books where examples like "He's a 17 year-old boy" or "That's a 300 year-old artefact". Are those wrong?

I can see why "300 year-old artefacts" would be a problem if the writer's intent was to talk about artefacts that were 300 years old, and had instead put down 300 artefacts that were each one year old. HAHAHAAHA! :d
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Old 03-02-2009, 05:52 PM   #16
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Runs-screaming-from-thread.
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Old 03-03-2009, 09:00 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ComicBent View Post
*The three-thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.*

When you deal with problems like this, you have gone beyond rules of grammar and spelling, and you have to use good sense. We have gradually moved away from overhyphenation. I can remember a time when careful writers would probably have written:

*The three-thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.*

In fact, I might still do it that way, but I would re-emphasize that clarity is the only genuine goal.
FWIW, after reading all the arguments for and against, I used the first hyphen and wrote it as 'three-thousand-year-old story.' If I don't get any answers to my query, I'll take it out.
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Old 04-11-2009, 08:24 PM   #18
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Rather than starting a new thread, I'm going to resurrect this one, since my questions are related. I'm helping proof something and want to be sure that I'm correct in my understanding of hyphenation for age and time. So...are these examples all correct?

She has a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.
She has a four-year old and a two-year old.
Her children are four years old and two years old.

AND

The prayer was ten minutes long.
It was a ten-minute prayer. (Not "It was a ten-minutes prayer.")
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Old 04-12-2009, 12:53 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Redzilla View Post
Rather than starting a new thread, I'm going to resurrect this one, since my questions are related. I'm helping proof something and want to be sure that I'm correct in my understanding of hyphenation for age and time. So...are these examples all correct?

She has a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. Yes
She has a four-year old and a two-year old. No
Her children are four years old and two years old. Yes

AND

The prayer was ten minutes long. Yes
It was a ten-minute prayer. (Not "It was a ten-minutes prayer.") Yes
I believe the second one needs two hyphens, because "old" can't stand alone as a noun, rather "four-year-old" in its entirety is the noun. (CMOS)

That doesn't apply to "ten-minute prayer" because "prayer" by itself is a noun and "ten-minute" is a modifier.
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Old 04-12-2009, 01:28 AM   #20
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I just discovered why I thought the one you marked "No" is correct. In this ancient grammar book I have, the argument put forth is that "old" is a stand-in for the object noun. Therefore it doesn't get the hyphen, because it's being modified by four-year. Just as there would be no second hyphen in "ten-minute-prayer." Fascinating... I suppose things have changed since...1912, the year my grammar book was published.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FennelGiraffe View Post
I believe the second one needs two hyphens, because "old" can't stand alone as a noun, rather "four-year-old" in its entirety is the noun. (CMOS)

That doesn't apply to "ten-minute prayer" because "prayer" by itself is a noun and "ten-minute" is a modifier.
ETA: And many thanks! Much appreciated.
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Old 04-13-2009, 12:39 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dpaterso View Post
First example's correct.

I'd drop the first hyphen in the second example, e.g. three thousand-year-old

-Derek
I disagree. If I tell you about "three thousand-year-old X," then X is three different things, each of which is a thousand years old ("We went to France and visited three thousand-year-old churches in a single afternoon."). If the thing is three thousand years old, then it's a three-thousand-year-old X (or a 3000-year-old X).

That being said, when you get into numbers that are more than one word long, I think it's common to not hyphenate at all ("we went to Egypt and visited a six thousand year old pyramid"). It's hard to reconcile that to the hyphen rule that applies to all one-word numbers ("two-year-old child"), but it's still preferable to the sheer incorrectness of omitting only the first hyphen.
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Old 04-18-2009, 10:05 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Dawnstorm View Post
Hm, so why would you guys leave off the hyphen after "three". That looks... wrong to me. The "three" is part of the compound, isn't it?
The three thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.

The three-thousand-year-old spearheads were hard to find.
How many spearheads? How old are they?
Yes, for clarity the hyphen is necessary here. As noted...

The three thousand-year-old X... Is three distinct objects.

The three-thousand-year-old X... Is one object that is 3000-years-old.

To some extent it is a style choice with no correct answer, however, the purpose of writing is to communicate clearly with your audience. Dropping that hyphen completely changes the meaning of the sentence.

As for spelling out numbers or using numerals, that's also a style choice. The cut-off depends on which style guide you go with, but typically it's either above 9 or above 99 that you switch.

Best advice, get CMS (Chicago Manual of Style) and stick with it. All book publishing (fiction) editors use it as the base and have a house style guide to supplement CMS.
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