Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Hyphens – part 2: numbers

with 12 comments

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When writing out numbers between 21 and 99, use a hyphen. For example:

Twenty-one

Eighty-nine

You don’t need a hyphen when writing out numbers of 100 or higher, for example:

One hundred

Five hundred

However, numbers such as ‘128’ or ‘345’ should be written:

 One hundred and twenty-eight

Three hundred and forty-five

Hyphens to help avoid confusion

Hyphens and compass points

Hyphens and separating identical letters

Hyphens and compound nouns

Hyphens and compound adjectives

Hyphens and ‘un’ words

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12 Responses

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  1. Not exactly on point but fun anyway: How or whether to hyphenate “$21 million house”? (No peeking until after you answer.)

    Also: 128 gets all-hyphens when it’s a compound adjective (one-hundred-and-twenty-eight-year-old temple), though a numeral would be better there.

    Michael Farrell

    26/02/2010 at 3:27 pm

    • I would write: 21-million-dollar house. Now you can give me a better solution.

      I thought your ‘one-hundred-and-twenty-eight-year-old temple’ was funny; you would be that old before you got to the temple.

      Deborah

      26/02/2010 at 3:37 pm

      • Then Wordwatch both giveth and taketh away hyphens?

        Michael Farrell

        26/02/2010 at 3:52 pm

    • Torn from today’s headlines: “In a dramatic escalation of the war against illegal supergraphics in Los Angeles, authorities have jailed a businessman accused of posting an eight-story movie advertisement on an office building at one of Hollywood’s busiest intersections.

      Kayvan Setareh, 49, of Pacific Palisades was arrested at his home Friday night and ordered held on $1-million bail. An arrest warrant obtained by Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich accuses Setareh of three misdemeanor city code violations.”

      Aside from the issue of punitive bail in a misdemeanor case, you don’t need a hyphen in “$1 million bail.”

      Michael Farrell

      28/02/2010 at 7:14 pm

  2. Perhaps people have begun to use hyphens as they often do commas: not used when needed but used when not needed…

    Maggie Manning

    02/03/2010 at 6:48 pm

    • Yes, scattering a few around in the hope that one or two might end up in the right place! Thanks, Maggie.

      Deborah

      02/03/2010 at 7:17 pm

  3. As someone who has been writing professionally for a very long time, perhaps you could opine on this AP report? The headline was “12 centuries-old shipwrecks found in Baltic Sea.” I thought, Wow, that’s ancient — 1,200 years old? — but perhaps mishyphenated.

    Turns out this is what AP meant: “A dozen centuries-old shipwrecks — some of them unusually well-preserved — have been found in the Baltic Sea by a gas company building an underwater pipeline between Russia and Germany.”

    AP then gave their location: “The 12 wrecks were found in a 30-mile-long and 2-mile-wide (48-kilometer-long and 1.2 kilometer-wide) corridor, Nord Stream spokeswoman Tora Leifland Holmstrom said.” Sort of confusing and inconsistent, eh? Assuming the distances mattered — not sure they do — AP might have said “a 30-by-2-mile corridor” or “a corridor 30 miles long and two miles wide.” Etc.

    Michael Farrell

    09/03/2010 at 6:39 pm

  4. That’s a bit of a hyphen shipwreck you’ve dredged up there. I think your own suggestions make things quite shipshape enough without the need for me to strain my aged eyes and quill pen putting things right.

    Deborah

    09/03/2010 at 7:33 pm

    • I was confident that your years of professional experience would separate the bilge from the seawater.

      Michael Farrell

      09/03/2010 at 8:22 pm

      • Despite the quality of your nautical metaphors, I think we can all learn something — mostly how not to write — from this 1968 California appellate opinion:

        “Seemingly, in a desperate effort to salvage their lawsuit, plaintiffs have steered clear of Scylla by jettisoning the anchor of willfulness and the rudder of fraud only to be engulfed in Charybdis because what remains of their floundering complaint is incapable of remaining afloat on the legalistic sea.”

        Michael Farrell

        09/03/2010 at 11:44 pm

        • I see I am a mere amateur when it comes to all things Nelson.

          Deborah

          10/03/2010 at 7:56 am


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