How are age ranges with 'year-old' in them hyphenated?


In the following example:

This campaign is aimed at 18 24 year old females only.

I would hyphenate the age range as follows:

This campaign is aimed at 18-24-year-old females only.

Is this OK/correct? I've seen 18-24 year old females (no hyphenation between 24, year and old) but this seems incorrect to me because I believe "year old" used IN THIS CONTEXT must be hyphenated, e.g. "He's a fifteen-year-old student/She's a 20-year-old athlete." (but not "He is 15 years old"). The use of 3 hyphens in my example above perhaps looks a bit odd, but - bottom line - is it correct? I've consulted some very reputable sources and I couldn't find any info. re: the hyphenation of ages where I have an age range, i.e 18-24, 8-10, etc.
  • entangledbank

    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    I would avoid hyphens being used for two different purposes in the one word, and would therefore spell out the hyphen:

    18 to 24-year-old females

    If you worry about that '18' looking wrong, alternatives are:

    18- to 24-year-old females
    18-year-old to 24-year-old females
    18-24 year old females [i.e. break your original rule when it makes things look worse]

    I don't think an en dash is visually distinctive enough to get us out of this, so I wouldn't use:

    18–24-year-old females


    Thank you for your suggestions. Think you're right re: options. Would be nice to find conclusive evidence but Judith Butcher and Oxford Style Manual don't provide any (for double age ranges). Of the options you mention, think I'll go with 18- to 24-year-old females in this case. Many thanks for your help! :)


    Senior Member
    American English
    For what it's worth, I often use your choice from entangledbank's options:
    This campaign is aimed at 18- to 24-year-old females only.

    I often have the freedom to rewrite, so alternatives would be:
    This campaign is aimed solely at females aged 18–24.
    This campaign is aimed at females aged 18–24. (Where we don't have to reinforce "only" or "solely," which aren't really necessary.)
    This campaign is aimed at females 18–24. (Where "aged" is understood this is my preference.)


    New Member
    English - USA
    I've used: 18-to-24-year-old females

    ...forgoing grouping numbers with an en dash (which @entangledbank references) in favor of grouping all the necessary words as a compound modifier.

    Mixing hyphen use (and using a hyphen to display a number range instead of an en dash) seems like bad practice.


    English - U.S.
    Real typographers and printers don't use the hyphen to link the lowest and highest values of a range, they use an "en dash." In Windows, that's accessible by holding down the "Alt" key and typing zero-one-five-zero on the numeric keypad (it doesn't work using the numbers at the top of the alphabetical section that also have special symbols in the shift position).

    This is a hyphen: -
    This is an "en dash": –
    This is an "em dash": — (Alt + zero-one-five-one; what a typographer or pritner uses as a "dash")

    So a typographer (or anyone keying in Windows; I don't know about other operating systems) could set the second example sentence as follows (and would do so if the writer would not recast the sentence):

    This campaign is aimed at 18–24-year-old females only.

    Since the difference between the hyphen and the "en dash" is small, and not every reader might notice it, it would be better to use one of the alternatives:

    This campaign is aimed only at females in the 18–24 age range. [Did you notice the "en dash" there?:) You can and should use it even if you are not mixing it with a real hyphen.]

    The "en dash" is called that because it is as wide as a lower-case "n"; the "em dash" is—you guessed it!—as wide as a lower-case "m".
    < Previous | Next >