3 More Types of Hyphenation Errors with Numbers

By Mark Nichol

Confusion about the relationship between hyphens and numbers, whether they appear in numeral or spelled-out form, is rampant. Each of the following examples erroneously employs hyphens; discussion after each sentence explains the error, and a revision corrects it.

1. Because of concussions, he had played just sixty-nine games in two seasons between 2010-2012.

Using a hyphen rather than an en dash in a number range is generally an error of ignorance (though some publications, with full awareness of the distinction between the two symbols, confusingly insist on doing so anyway). However, linking 2010 and 2012 in a number range with any connective symbol is redundant to preceding the numbers with between, which should be counterbalanced with an intervening and: “Because of concussions, he had played just sixty-nine games in two seasons between 2010 and 2012.” An alternative revision, correctly employing the en dash, is “Because of concussions, he had played just sixty-nine games in the 2010–11 and 2011–2012 seasons.”

2. This goal may be achievable in a 12-to-24 month time frame.

Just as it is not necessary to repeat the word for the unit of time in “12 months to 24 months”—the first iteration of month is implicit—the word may be elided from a version of the phrase that uses hyphens. But do not link the two numbers with one or more of these symbols (or with one or more dashes); to serves the connective function, and the hyphens represent that the numbers, when combined with month, modify “time frame.” Form the construction (which employs a syntactical technique known as suspensive hyphenation) as shown here: “This goal may be achievable in a 12- to 24-month time frame.”

Also, many publications spell out numbers up to one hundred, so it might be correct (or preferable to you, if no specific style is required for your content) to instead write, “This goal may be achievable in a twelve- to twenty-four-month time frame.”

3. A similar incident occurred four-and-a-half years later.

The words representing a number consisting of a mixed fraction should be hyphenated only if the phrase modifies a noun that follows it. Here, the words in the phrase should stand on their own: “A similar incident occurred four and a half years later.” (Compare “A similar incident occurred after a four-and-a-half-year interval.”)


9 Responses to “3 More Types of Hyphenation Errors with Numbers”

  • venqax

    @Amber Polo: Whether it’s used everywhere or not, that system certainly seems to make sense.

  • D.A.W.

    Many writers seem to have been INNOCULATED against any preposition that has two or more syllables, such as {above, around, after, alongside, before, between, close to, concerning, during, in lieu of, inside of, into, next to, outside of, onto, over, under, underneath, or via}.
    This is a salient failure, and also this is a subject that deserves several articles. The lack of learning about prepositional phrases sticks out like a sore thumb!

  • D.A.W.

    Many people think that prepositions are only allowed to have one syllable, and there ARE lots of these:
    {at, by, down, for, from, in, near, on, per, since, to, through, & up}

    Then there are those who are hung up on “prior to”, which means “before”, and this one as one fewer syllable. Also, the same word in German is “bevor”, and so “before” has the quality of being a good, honest, hardworking ANGLO-SAXON word, and not Latin, Greek, or French.

  • D.A.W.

    In North America, we have “winter” sports whose “seasons” endure over two calendar years, but the years are usually written with hyphens, with the hyphen pronounced “through”:
    The basketball season of 1996-97;
    the ice hockey season of 2000-21;
    the football season of 2006-07 (including the NFL playoffs);
    the wrestling season of 1999-2000.
    One example sentence would be “The goalkeeper for the Montreal Canadians suffered from a concussion during the season of 2001-2002, and so he missed playing during December and January,” where the key time phrase is read “during the season of 2001 through 2002”.
    The key preposition is “during”, which indicates a >duration< in time.
    The key problem is all of those people who have been "inoculated" against words like "before", "between", "concerning", "during", and "underneath", and so they do not use them.

  • D.A.W.

    Hi, Amber,
    The baseball seasons of the United States, Canada, Japan, and Korea proceed during just one calendar year. For example, the 2002 Arizona Diamondbacks began the baseball season in March 2002, and they ended the season by winning the world championship in October 2002.
    In the Southern Hemisphere, things are worked out differently in places like southern Australia and southern Brazil (where most of the people live), and in tropical countries, things are worked out differently according to the climate (with the wet season and the dry season, too): Panama, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Venezuela,…

  • Amber Polo

    I know little of baseball, but I was a Serials Librarian who worked with magazines and publications with messy dates.
    I was taught that partial years that overlapped (like fiscal years) should be written 2010/11 and 2011/12 whereas 2010–11 indicated two complete years.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I had a very good college student (in electronics) who enjoyed playing tackle football with the other women. Thus there is such a thing as women’s gridiron football.

  • Dale A. Wood

    3. “A similar incident occurred four-and-a-half years later.”
    “The words representing a number consisting of a mixed fraction should be hyphenated only if the phrase modifies a noun that follows it.”
    Duh! The phrase “four-and-a-half” modifies the noun “years”, which does follow it.
    Your sentence has bitten its own tail, like a snake.
    Other ways to do it:
    A. Make the thing into an idiomatic adverbial phrase: “four-and-a-half-years later”.
    B. Use a prepositional phrase: “later on by four-and-a-half years”. “Years” is the object of the preposition, and “four-and-a-half” is the adjective that modifies “years”.

  • Dale A. Wood

    1. “Because of concussions, he had played just sixty-nine games in two seasons between 2010-2012.”
    DUH! Think of baseball seasons! Baseball player can suffer from concussions, too, either batters or pitchers, usually**.
    A. “Between 2010-2012” is incorrect because that gives only one baseball season, namely 2011.
    B. “During 2010-2013 is incorrect because that gives the baseball seasons of 2010, 2011, and 2013 – count ’em, three seasons.
    C. “During 2010-2011” OR “during 2011-2012” could be correct, depending on the sport.
    D. Many writers seem to have been INNOCULATED against the preposition “during”, or any other preposition that has two or more syllables, such as {above, around, after, before, concerning, during, into, next to, over, under, underneath, or via}.
    **Infielders, especially 3rd basemen, are vulnerable to getting concussions by getting hit in the head by line drives.
    This brings to mind another issue: 1st basemen, 2nd basemen, and 3rd basemen can all be female, and the same goes for safetymen and defensemen in women’s football, ice hockey, field hockey, and lacrosse.

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