Years old vs year-old vs age vs aged vs years of age

Today is all about how we talk about how many years old something or someone is, or how many years in a row we’ve won an award.

When is it “years old” vs “#-year-old”?

“Years old” is the most common and most reader-friendly way of talking about how old something or someone is (in Australian English).

e.g. CompanyX is more than 100 years old.

You always use hyphens for “#-year-old” because it is either used as an adjective (similar to how you put a hyphen in “award-winning”) … or it is a noun on its own (in which case it is a compound word, two or more words stuck together).

Not using hyphens here is a common mistake.

e.g. Adjective: CompanyX is the largest 100-year-old organisation in Queensland.

e.g. Noun: My 2-year-old is very tall for her age.

When is it “age” vs “aged” vs “years of age”?

Beware of using “age” when you could be using the reader-friendly phrase “years old” instead. I always used to see this often when updating our member-facing forms; it would say “If you are age 55 / 60 / etc.” instead of “If you’re 55 years old”.

e.g. If you are aged 55 years or over, please fill in this part of the form. >>> For readability, it’s easier to say “If you are 55 years old or over”.

e.g. Start planning your retirement before you reach the usual age for stopping work.

e.g. My daughter is only 2 years of age, so she’s not thinking about retirement yet. She is not yet of an age to retire. >>> For readability, it’s easier to say “only 2 years old”.

e.g. This coming-of-age novel is a good read.

Lastly, “year” and “years” can be used in a few different ways.

e.g. CompanyX has won the Platinum rating from SuperRatings for more than 10 years in a row.

e.g. In the year 2020, lots of people began working from home, and it was also my third year working at CompanyX.

e.g. CompanyX has been taking care of clients for more than 100 years.

e.g. Our current investment approach was initiated around 10 years ago, after the GFC.

e.g. You could say someone is wise beyond their years.


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Any other ways of talking about time and age that you’ve seen tripping people up?

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share or repost. Thanks!

Who vs Whom

Another request: who vs whom.

I think most people, whenever they think about using “whom” in a written sentence, stop and wonder whether they’re doing it right.

Psychological reassurance: The reality is that this is one case where you can probably relax, because most people speak English differently to how we write English. If you write “who” every time, it’ll look fine, because this is almost always the word people use when we’re speaking. Because “whom” sounds pompous out loud, almost nobody says it, even when grammatically they should. So when you write “who”, even if it should be “whom”, most people reading it will think, “Yeah, I’d say ‘who’. That looks fine to me.”

But if you still really care about writing it correctly, then let’s get word nerdy!

Image source: Cata memes.
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Is data plural or singular?

Request of the day today is about the word “data”.

The companies I’ve worked for in the past ~8 years in the finance industry involve a lot of data, and we have to talk about it a lot, depending on your role in the corporate world.

Is data singular, or plural, or other?

In Australia, “data” is treated as a mass collective noun that you treat as singular, just like “information”.

e.g. The data was collected. There wasn’t much data available.

>>> In this sentence, we use the singular words “was” and “much” instead of the plurals “were” and “many”.

(This bit is in brackets because it’s not essential reading: I tried really hard to think of a way to explain what a mass collective noun is, but couldn’t think of anything clever. Basically, it is a noun for a group or a volume of things where you can’t count that noun. You can’t say one data, two datas.)

In addition to being a noun, you can also use “data” as an adjective.

e.g. ProgramX is a data system. (adjective + noun) This means it is a system that collects, stores, and uses data. (noun)

Why data changed from being plural to mass collective/singular over time

Historically, “data” was a Latin word that was the plural of “datum”. (A single point of data is a datum.)

For this reason, some traditionalists in the USA like to still use “data” in its Latin (plural) form.

e.g. The data were collected, but there was one point of datum that I want to talk about.

But we don’t do that here in Australia.

From about the 1900s, common usage has evolved, and even the Oxford English Dictionary accepts that we now use “data” as mass collective/singular.

Bonus word of the day:

There’s another Latin word that we have transformed from “plural >>> singular” over time: your “agenda” for a meeting.

In Latin, “agendum” is singular and “agenda” is plural, but in English, we don’t say “agendum”.

We say “agenda” and we treat it as “singular”.

e.g. The agenda (singular) for that meeting was long, and the items (plural) on the agenda were boring.

Image source: MemeGenerator / Star Trek.

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share of repost. Thanks!

Punctuation in bullet points and numbered lists

If you’ve ever had *that* discussion with a colleague about how to use punctuation in bullet points or numbered lists – and I know you have, because you asked me to post about it – then you’ll know it’s a controversial topic.

Image source: Photo by Karen Su, Lonely Planet; meme from QuickMemes.

That’s why it’s spelled out in most of the major style guides. This post details the punctuation rules for the style guides I’ve written for various companies, based on AP Style (used by journalists), Macquarie style, Oxford style, and a few others.

Why care about whether your bullet points and numbered lists have punctuation, “and/or”s, and the like?

Because all of this affects readability, and y’all know, we live in the Golden Age of Skimreading. Readability is king.

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Book launch: Fire Warriors on the Mountain is live!

Book 2 of my Fire Dancers series — Fire Warriors on the Mountain — is live!

✨You can buy it from Amazon Kindle or paperback here: or you can buy from one of the many other places it is available… (Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc.)✨

(Oh, and there’s a new edition of book 1 with a new cover to match. 😎 If you already have the Kindle of book 1, you can download the new edition free.)

You’ll love Fire Warriors on the Mountain if you’ve ever gone through tough times in life, you love a good island holiday, and you love a well-muscled love interest… 😉🌴🌴🤿🍉🥭🌶 

You don’t neeeeed to have read Fire Dancers in the Sand to understand Fire Warriors, but the paperback for Fire Dancers in the Sand is currently just $5 on Amazon — so why not buy both at once? 😉📖📗📘📚

And follow me if you’d like to hear first when Book 3 launches… Fire Gods in the Ice, aiming for a release in the next year! 📃📒⏰✅

#books #author #publishing #firedancersbooks #firedancers #travel #islands #fiction #yafantasy #fantasybooks #lovetriangle #amazon #Kindle #sale

When do you put a comma before “and” or “or”?

The Oxford comma is when you put a comma before “and” or “or” or another conjunction, at the end of a list of three or more items.

e.g. I like to read books, write books, and talk about books.

e.g. I like to read, write, but not talk about books.

The Oxford comma is a special comma guidelines used by a lot of style guides here in Australia, including the style guides at QSuper and Canstar, which I wrote during my time there.

Why use the Oxford comma?

There are three reasons to use the Oxford comma:

  1. Makes a sentence clearer if there are multiple “and”s.
  2. Without the comma, the end of the sentence can become the observer/receiver of the sentence (incorrectly).
  3. Without the comma, the end of the sentence can become a descriptive clause (incorrectly).
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Using commas to make sentences easier to read

First, the Oxford comma is helpful because it separates the last item in the list from the second-last item, making the sentence clearer.

Here’s a comparison of using the Oxford comma vs not using it:

e.g. With the comma: QSuper now offers multiple different types of insurance, including death, total and permanent disability, and income protection cover.

e.g. Without the comma – less clear: QSuper now offers multiple different types of insurance, including death, total and permanent disability and income protection cover.

Using commas to keep sentences correct

Secondly, the Oxford comma is helpful because without the last comma, it can seem as if the end two items of the list are the observer or receiver of your sentence. An example can explain this better than I can:

e.g. With the comma: I love my pets, family, and friends.

e.g. Without the comma: I love my pets, family and friends. >>> You are actually telling your family and friends that you love your pets, i.e. “Family and friends, I love my pets.”

Thirdly, the Oxford comma is helpful because without it, it can seem as if the end two items of a list are describing the rest of the sentence (“a descriptive clause”, if you want to get nerdy).

e.g. With the comma: I love my pets, Mum, and Dad.

e.g. Without the comma: I love my pets, Mum and Dad. >>> I am saying that Mum and Dad are my pets, and they would really not be happy about that.

Why is it called the Oxford comma?

Now let’s get really nerdy! The “Oxford” comma is called by this name because it was traditionally used by the Oxford University Press editors and printers.

They also called it the “serial comma” because it’s used for lists, but since “serial” makes me think of serial killers, I don’t use that name.

Now, the Oxford Style Guide themselves dropped the “requirement” for an Oxford comma in all cases in 2011, and made it a guideline instead.

But there are still got many good reasons to use the Oxford comma, so I’m happy it’s sticking around.

As far as I’m concerned, there are three scenarios: using the Oxford comma correctly, not using the Oxford comma and being wrong.

(Joke. But seriously, it physically hurt me not to put the comma there.)

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you repost or share. Thanks!

Bare With vs Bear With

This is probably the most hilarious post we’ll ever see on this page – and I’m keeping it PG on purpose so just… What can I say?

Think clean.

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Is it ‘bare with me’ or ‘bear with me’?

“bare” = not clothed, simple, uncovered.

e.g. They bared their soul with me by talking about their childhood, and I appreciate it.

e.g. They got bare with me, and we went skinny dipping.

So if we were to say “bare with me”, just make really, really sure that you actually want something to be undressed or uncovered…

“to bear” = to be patient / to hold up under pressure / to hold on during adversity.

e.g. We’re asking you to bear with us while we make our decision.

e.g. I can’t bear the humiliation.

So if we were to say “bear with me”, we would be asking someone to be patient with us while we talk something through with them, take a while to find some information for them, ask them more questions, etc.

(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2022. Please credit me when you share or repost, thanks!