Punctuation Quiz #20: Hyphenation in References to Numbers

By Mark Nichol

For each pair of sentences below, choose the one that correctly inserts or omits a hyphen in a reference to a numerical quantity or proportion.

1.
a) The bylaws require a three-fifths majority.
b) The bylaws require a three fifths majority.

2.
a) The statue is eight feet tall.
b) The statue is eight-feet tall.

3.
a) She predicted a seventy-percent turnout for the election.
b) She predicted a seventy percent turnout for the election.

4.
a) They came in second to last in the league standings.
b) They came in second-to-last in the league standings.

5.
a) A quantity of one hundred forty four is also known as a gross.
b) A quantity of one hundred forty-four is also known as a gross.

Answers and Explanations

1.
a) The bylaws require a three-fifths majority.

All spelled-out fractions are hyphenated, whether they precede a noun or stand on their own (for example, in “Three-fifths of the votes were in favor of the motion”).

2.
a) The statue is eight feet tall.

Eight and feet do not constitute a phrasal adjective modifying a noun, so no hyphen is necessary. (However, the last three words in that sentence should be hyphenated when they modify a noun, as in “The eight-foot-tall statue was unveiled yesterday.”)

3.
b) She predicted a seventy percent turnout for the election.

Numbers, whether spelled out or in numeral form, are never attached to the word percent by a hyphen.

4.
a) They came in second to last in the league standings.

A phrase such as “second to last” is hyphenated only when it precedes a noun, as in “They took second-to-last place in the standings.”

5.
b) A quantity of one hundred forty-four is also known as a gross.

Two words designating a value represented by a tens-place digit and a ones-place digit are always hyphenated, even as part of a larger number. (However, such numbers are rarely spelled out.)

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