Monday, February 11, 2008

Numbers and Hyphens

Seen in a Gap store window.

Nineteen-Sixty Nine is wrong. Make it Nineteen Sixty-Nine.

(If we want to be really pedantic, we need a hyphen here also: 14-oz. boxes. That’s because 14-oz. is being used as a premodifying adjective: it precedes and describes the noun boxes.)


Anonymous said...

The use of hyphens can be pretty confusing, at least for me. When do we actually use hyphens? I have seen words like 'eyewitness' becomes 'eye-witness' and 'paperbags' becomes 'paper-bags'. Which is correct?

The Grammar Terrorist said...

It's confusing for everybody!

There're no hard-and-fast rules with noun compounds: "airstream", "air stream" and "air-stream" are all acceptable. British English, however, prefers two separate words (air stream) and American English, one (airstream). The key is to be consistent within a single text.

Incidentally, "eyewitness" is the usual form in British and American English.

I'd think that "paper bag" is the usual form (but "paperback" is one word).

If in doubt, always check with a reliable dictionary -- even then you'll often find more than one form listed.