What you learned in English class will help you with syntax about as much as what you learned in driving lessons will help you with mechanics—you get by fine until one day you find yourself stopped in the middle of a sentence with smoke coming out from under the hood. In this seminar, we’re going to learn how to take apart sentences the way a mechanic takes apart an engine.
Last week, I looked at what the dictionaries and style guides have to say about the structure x-year-olds, as in We hosted a party for eight 10-year-olds. Those references that listed it used the hyphenated version, but I have a habit of using it without hyphens: 10 year olds.
In my Copyediting III course this past spring, one of my students wanted to know why I had marked on her editing test that 24-year-olds should be 24 year olds. Doesn’t the phrase contain hyphens?
As happens with copyeditors sometimes, I had made the correction reflexively. My thinking was that the x-year-olds form, where x is a number, is a noun, so hyphens aren’t needed. But the student’s question made me stop and think. And I couldn’t answer my student without some research first.
As vocabulary and usage shift beneath our feet, it becomes a challenge to make informed and appropriate editorial decisions. Embrace or shun singular "they"? Abandon or hold fast to "whom"? Does the "comprise/compose" distinction still work?
Nearly three years ago, I wrote an article for this newsletter titled “The Case for Singular They.” [See our October–November 2012 issue. –Ed.] I took what I felt was a controversial stand, arguing that if a writer wants to use singular they, we should let them. Although it still may be a controversial stand, it seems that we may have reached a tipping point in the argument about gender-neutral pronouns.