Based in Noblesville, Indiana, Curtis writes the syndicated humor column, Grammar Guy. He also likes to write for startups.

Your Age is Showing

Your Age is Showing

 Photo by  Lorene Farrugia  on  Unsplash

I recently celebrated a birthday. Okay, maybe “celebrated” isn’t quite accurate. Let’s say I recently endured another birthday. And, as much as I openly dislike birthday attention, this got me thinking: how do I properly write about my age?

Some say you’re only as old as you act. In that case, I’m 11 years old. Just ask my three-year-old son.

Did you notice the two ways I wrote about ages just now? Both instances are correct.

Here’s the rule: only add hyphens when the age is used as an adjective that comes before the noun you are modifying. For example: We haven’t been getting any sleep thanks to our three-month-old daughter. In this case, the adjective (three-month-old) comes before the noun (daughter) it describes.

If the noun comes before the age, don’t use a hyphen. For example: Curtis is 33 years old. In this case, the rapidly aging noun (Curtis) is 33–the same number as Larry Bird’s jersey.

So, when do you write out a number and when do you simply use a numeral? As a general rule, spell out numbers one through nine and use numerals for numbers 10 and larger. Many style guides disagree, because if they all had the same rules, we’d only need one book. Of course, there are exceptions to this numerical rule, like when you want to have consistency in your sentence. For example: Zionsville has 3 roundabouts, while Carmel has 102. In this case, it would look strange to write out “three” and then use a numeral, so I used numerals for both.

Whether you write it with letters or numerals, age is merely a number. In this roundabout we call life, we all get off at our own exits, because otherwise we’d all be dizzy. Relational ties are the hyphens that bind us together with the people we love. As long as I can have a low-key birthday with a handful of my favorite people, I’m happy; just don’t have the waiters at the restaurant put a sombrero on my head and cause a big scene.
 

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