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In a fiction book, here's a sentence that needs punctuation help: "I'll give you three-fifty for it." (We're talking about $350, but we don't want to use numbers.) We want to spell them out. Should "three-fifty" be hyphenated or not?

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Consider the pronunciation of "three fifty". Is there more stress on the "three" than on the "fifty"? If so, you're dealing with a word compound, and there can be a hyphen. If not, "three fifty" is a phrase not a word, so stress should come at the end.

"Fifty" has more stress than "three", so no hyphen.

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  • Huh? You start by saying if either word has more stress there can be a hyphen, then you finish by saying that because "fifty" had more stress use no hyphen? – nnnnnn Mar 26 at 3:22
  • @nnnnnn, My answer was partly incoherent. I've corrected it by replacing "or" with "than". Thank you for your comment. My conclusion is that there should be no hyphen, since the stress suggests that this is not a compound. – Greg Lee Mar 26 at 4:26
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In US English and British English, "three fifty" would not indicate the number 350 without significant context contributing to that interpretation. It would indicate the number 3.50, typically in terms of money ($3.50 or £3.50). And in these contexts, it would not be hyphenated.

Both the example given in the question and the examples of money are themselves not formal language, though, and would therefore not necessarily follow traditional rules of grammar. Language is a flexible device, and for writers of novels, short stories, and novellas, poetic license often trumps grammatical correctness. The foremost question to an editor's mind should be one of whether the meaning of the writing is clear and whether the style fits the presentation holistically.

To be grammatical, one should say "three hundred fifty." Further, to express £3.50 most clearly and grammatically, one ought to say "three pounds fifty," or, for $3.50, it should be "three dollars and fifty cents."

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