Grammar Tip – Hyphens with Numbers and Nouns

Jan’s question: “When referring to a 21 bed unit or a 2 year term contract, is it 21 bed or 21-bed? And is it a 2 year or two-year contract?”

BizWritingTip response: Again, great questions — taking two different rules into account.

First, when a number (e.g., 21) and a noun (e.g., beds) form one thought and come before another noun (e.g., unit), you do two things: 1) make the first noun singular (bed), and 2) place a hyphen between the number and the first noun.

Examples (correct)

21-bed unit

24-hour day

60-kilometre-an-hour speed limit

If the number and noun construction does not have a noun following it, omit the hyphen.

Examples (correct — no nouns following)

The unit has 21 beds.

We will meet in 24 hours.

The speed limit is 60 kilometres an hour.

Second, according to The Canadian Press Stylebook if the number is under 10, write it out – if over 10 use the figures.*

Examples

We have a two-year contract.

Please sign the 10-year agreement.

Three-week vacation

Five- or 10-page document (There is a hyphen after five because the word “page” is understood.)

Exception to the rule: Do not hyphenate percentages or money.

Examples

12 percent increase

$2 million loss

* For more information on whether to write out numbers or use the figures, please visit the earlier BizWritingTip blog on The Rules for Numbers.

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