4

I know that both forms (1 year old and 1 year of age) exist, but when I tried to find some rule about usage, I couldn't (there are several forum threads about it, such as this and that, but they are not really helpful as they do not give ANY direction regarding the difference between the forms (if any)).

I need to use one* of these phrases in a formal context (drug leaflet). Currently the text says: "The medicine is not intended for babies under 1 year of age. For children 1 to 6 years old, the medicine is dispensed with a doctor's prescription only".
My questions are:

  1. Is there any preference to use either form, objectively or contextually?
  2. Is there a preference to use one or the other when stating an age range, i.e. would it be preferable to say "children 2-5 years old" over "children 2-5 years of age", or vice versa?


*I believe the same phrase should be used throughout the text.

  • 1
    How are you going to use the expression ('a 1-year-old child', 'a 1-year old', 'If your child is 1 year old' ... ? Do you want to sound stiffly formal or more accessible while remaining acceptably formal? '1 year of age' is, I'd say, in the former register, and slightly old-fashioned. And as a post-modifier, I'd choose 'aged 1' etc. Thus I'd choose (2) 'children aged 2-5'. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 7 '17 at 10:21
  • Currently the text says: "The medicine is not intended for babies under 1 year of age. For children 1 to 6 years old, the medicine is dispensed with a doctor's prescription only".<br> What would you suggest? – Don_S Mar 7 '17 at 10:42
  • Those sound fine to me, and, in spite of my reservations mentioned above, do not raise my 'over-stiff' or 'old-fashioned' hackles. There is perhaps a register unique to pill bottles. (Joking aside, context is virtually everything; I'd still be wary of over-use of the 'of age' variant in other contexts.) – Edwin Ashworth Mar 7 '17 at 10:45
  • So you wouldn't even bother to choose one form and use it throughout the text? There are a couple more instances. – Don_S Mar 7 '17 at 10:53
  • 1
    We can't comment on how [idiomatic] a phrasing sounds without adequate context. However, the important thing here is that the information is presented clearly. Professionally, yes, so as to reassure the public. But you're not after a Booker Prize. // 'Keep to the same phrasing' is a good rule of thumb, but no more than that. Mixing it up might quite possibly get people looking for possible (but unintended) differences. I can't foresee where the recommendations I gave earlier would cause problems, style or otherwise. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 7 '17 at 11:06
2

Under 1 year of age marks a specific upper limit that is reached on the child's first birthday.

On the other hand, you might refer to a child as "1 year old" at any time between the child's first & second birthdays.

Nevertheless, that does not wholly address the issue for two reasons:

  1. In the first example, one could equally well have said "Under 1 year old", but the use of the word "age" seems to add precision.

  2. In the second example, one could argue that, in common usage, a child may be referred to as "6 years old" for a period of 12 months at any time between the child's 6th & 7th birthdays, so the expression "children 1 to 6 years old" is actually ambiguous. Does it mean:

    • a period of 5 years between the child's 1st & 6th birthdays; or
    • a period of 6 years between the child's 1st & 7th birthdays, during the last year of which the child may commonly be described as being "6 years' old".

Hence it is unclear whether the need for a doctor's prescription ceases on the child's 6th birthday or not until the 7th birthday. But this ambiguity is related not to the usage of the word "age" v. "old", but to the phraseology used. To be clearer the second qualification should have read (for example):
"For children over 1 but under 6 years of age [or 6 years old], ...". With such wording:

  • The expression "over 1" is clear because of the preceding qualification.
  • The use of the word "under" makes it clear that the upper limit is the child's 6th birthday & not his/her 7th birthday.
  • The word "old" could be used instead of "age", but the use of "age" is consistent with the previous sentence and seems to add precision.

In conclusion, (as has been noted in the other answer) the use of "age" implies a legality, but - more critically - the upper limit needs clarification as to whether it is inclusive or exclusive of '6-year olds', preferably by using wording such as "under 6 ...".

In answer to the question "is one of them the “correct” form?", I would say that neither form is correct or incorrect: it depends on both choice & usage, but - even more importantly - clarity is needed when specifying an upper age limit.

  • I know someone might be described as "nearly 6 years old" - but I've never come across someone being described as (say) "6 years old" before their 6th birthday. – TrevorD Mar 9 '17 at 1:04
  • @fixer1234 That is not the same as saying that "'6 years old' [means] between 5 1/2 and 6 1/2." Your example is the parents making a 'judgement call' on what is appropriate for a nearly-6 y. old. That's completely different from someone saying "6y old" when they mean "5½y old"! – TrevorD Mar 10 '17 at 16:40
1

Things that lawyers have a hand in tend to use very precise and immutable language to minimize the possibility of common words changing meaning over time or being interpreted in different ways.

For example, look at gender identity (chosen as an example because it illustrates common usage changing over a short time). Common usage of "Male" and "female" human gender used to refer to the biological definition. Now the terms can mean something totally different, virtually unrelated to biology (i.e., the gender the person views themself as or would prefer to be treated as).

"Old" could similarly come to mean something other than physical age. People already refer to how old someone feels or how old someone acts. Children are referred to in terms of how old they are physically or developmentally. "Old" is a somewhat ambiguous term, and its casual, imprecise use in everyday language makes it the kind of word lawyers prefer not to use.

To minimize the potential for confusion (and liability), legal and medical documents use terms that are as unambiguous as possible. "1 year of age" is less likely than is "1 year old" to be interpreted as referring to something other than chronological age, and is likely to weather the evolution of language better.

In normal conversation, though, "1 year old" would be the typical expression (with the possible exception of someone like a lawyer, for whom the use of precise language is ingrained).

  • Male and Female as nouns refer to the sex of an animal (as in XX or XY chromosomes). They can be used as adjectives to qualify to a variety of things, including but not primarily to genitalia. Perhaps you should consult a biology text book before using contentious examples of this sort. – David Mar 8 '17 at 22:33
  • @David, you may be missing my larger point, which doesn't relate to technical definitions. I was referring to how the popular use and meaning of language change over time, which is one reason why more-precise language is used in lieu of common words in certain contexts. I chose gender terms as an example because they are an easily recognizable illustration of common usage changing over even a short time. The point is that for certain purposes, the process of evolution of usage drives a need for word choice other than what is currently used in everyday speech. – fixer1234 Mar 8 '17 at 23:16
  • But the two expressions mean exactly the same thing. As has already been said, "one year old" is plain English, "one year of age" is apparently standard style on medicine bottles. There is no change of meaning or usage. – David Mar 8 '17 at 23:32
  • @David, the point isn't whether it currently means something different. The reason why language on medicine bottles, legal documents, and some other contexts is very precise, and avoids informal common words, is that it is prophylactic; purposely chosen with an eye to the potential for misinterpretation or evolution of common usage. – fixer1234 Mar 9 '17 at 0:08
  • @David, you did raise some good points, though. I tried to clarify and tighten the answer. Thanks for the input. – fixer1234 Mar 9 '17 at 0:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.