Is either of these approaches to hyphenation currently more popular than the other one is when it comes to printed publications?

  1. The drug is most promising for three-to-fifteen-year-old children.
  2. The drug is most promising for three- to fifteen-year-old children.

I understand that the currently popular instruction on punctuating compound modifiers demands that one place a hyphen between each individual word in a modifier that's made up of several words (as in example #1), but I am pretty sure I have also seen such modifiers punctuated like the one given in example #2 a few times as well.

Sadly, searches on the internet and style guides such as Practical English Usage do not discuss this specific construction where we're talking about a range of numbers.

  • 2
    Not a direct answer to the question, but have you considered "The drug is most promising for children aged between three and fifteen" or "...children between three and fifteen years old"? Neither of those require any hyphens at all.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 27 '21 at 14:27
  • That would perhaps be a better way to say that, but I made up the sentence just to ask about the rule for hyphenation. Thanks for your response, anyway.
    – Farhang
    Nov 28 '21 at 14:52

There's no "perfect" answer here, because although some people might like to attach a trailing hyphen to the first "noun used within adjectival phrase" (three-, here), the fact of the matter is we don't normally include hyphens in three-year-old children OR fifteen-year-old children today, let alone for three-to-five-year-old children (or more "creatively", three- to five-year-old children).

If you do include that first hyphen (to alert the reader that you're "suspending" the semantic scope of three- until it can be "paralleled" by fifteen-), you end up being steered towards having to include the hyphens in fifteen-year-old children - which doesn't look good.

But if you refer to an indeterminate number (say, between 10 and 15) of children who are all one year old, I wouldn't complain if you wrote it as Our creche can look after ten to fifteen one-year-old children. While I don't think those hyphens are necessary, they just might help the reader recognise that in speech the hyphenated sequence would normally be spoken more rapidly, to identify it as a "self-contained unit" (multiple words representing a single noun). If you're forced to use several numbers in close proximity like this, but with different syntactic roles, any help you can give the reader / audience is likely to be useful.

  • 1
    Who's "we"? I note at your link that the first hit contains multiple scanning errors and the fourth advertises "45 activities for 3-5 year-old children." Nov 27 '21 at 15:50
  • Basically, "we" [don't normally include hyphens] meant people who agree with me. As I write this comment, I haven't yet looked any more closely at the results from the Google Books search linked to that assertion, where there are four readable instances of the relevant sequence of words - none of which include hyphens. Nov 27 '21 at 15:56
  • ...I've now just checked the next 5 pages of results, within which the sought text can only be read in six of the (10 to a page) results. Still none of them have hyphens. And since GB doesn't actually index punctuation marks (it just treats them as spaces), there's no reason why there should be anything atypical about the instances reported by my search. Nov 27 '21 at 15:59

According to the Hyphenation table in The Chicago Manual of Style, the rule summarizes that age terms (numeric range) are hyphenated in both noun and adjective forms. {Example: A fifty-five-year-old woman}

Note: Adjective forms (of a number) are hyphenated before a noun {Example: fifteen-year-old children}. And kept open when it comes after an adjective {Example: three- to fifteen-year-old children}.

According to the APA Publication manual, When two or more compound modifiers have a common base, this base is sometimes omitted in all except the last modifier, but the hyphens are retained. Example: Long- and short-term memory. 2-, 3-, and 10-min trials

Hope I have answered your question.

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