View Full Version : Three-year-old, three-year old, three year-old?

03-30-2007, 03:39 AM
Which one is right? I'd look it up, but I have no clue where to look. It's one of those things that has been niggling at me for years. I have my own opinion, or maybe it would be more properly called a preferred guess. Anybody here know?

03-30-2007, 03:41 AM

03-30-2007, 03:47 AM
That was fast… Thanks.

03-30-2007, 06:01 AM
I checked a few style guides just to confirm my instinct: "three-year-old" is standard.

03-30-2007, 07:49 AM
Flay, just out of curiosity, what did you look under to look it up? I had no clue where to start.

03-30-2007, 09:21 AM
I looked under hyphens, hyphenation or compound words, & checked the examples. "X-year-old" is a common enough construction that it's specifically mentioned in several guides: the first & second editions of Fowler, the Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage, Johnson's Handbook of Good English, & Carey's Mind the Stop. I think that guides that don't cover the specific use would consider it to be governed by the general rules for compound modifiers preceding nouns.

More than one guide quotes John Benbow's sage advice: "If you take hyphens seriously you will surely go mad."

03-30-2007, 06:28 PM
IMHO: William A. Sabin's The Gregg Reference Manual is an excellent reference book to have handy.

In case you need a little more clarification on the age question, this might help.

In the Tenth Edition of The Gregg Reference Manual, according to Item # 434, page 135:

Spell out ages in nontechnical references and in formal writing.

My son is three years old and my daughter is two.
Shirley is in her early forties; her husband is in his mid-sixties.
Have you ever tried keeping a group of five-year-olds happy at the same time?
We've got a surprise party planned for Jack when he reaches the Big Five-OH.

Anyway, you'd write: I have a three-year-old child.
But, you'd write: My child is three years old.

BTW: I looked in the index under 'age'

03-31-2007, 12:10 AM
Thanks so much, both of you. I am now that much less clueless.