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.


Image source:

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!

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.

Continue reading

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!

Where does the full stop go when there’s other punctuation?

When I used to run business writing training for teams at QSuper to learn the company’s written style and tone of voice, people always asked me to explain where the full stop goes when you have other punctuation at the end of a sentence.

It’s also a common mistake I’ve seen people get wrong a lot, whether they’re writing for business or fiction authors.

This mainly happens with brackets and quotation marks, so that’s what I’ll cover here. Comment down below if you have other full stop questions you want to ask about!

Image source: (Excuse the lack of full stop in this meme. 😉 )

Where does the full stop go?

A full stop always, always, always goes at the end of a full sentence.

So you need to ask yourself, is the thing inside the “quotation marks” or (brackets) or other punctuation a full sentence on its own?

Does it make sense if you put it alone and give it its own full stop?

e.g. When I used to run training for the company style guide (which I helped write), I had a lot of fun.

>>> Can you see how (which I helped write) is not a full sentence on its own? Writing (Which I helped write.) wouldn’t make sense.

So the full stop needs to go at the end of the sentence, not within the brackets.

Where does the full stop go, inside or outside the quotation marks?

If the quote is a complete sentence on its own, it gets its own full stop within the quotation marks.

e.g. The Minister said, “Super is awesome.”

Where the quote is just a clause – not a full sentence – the full stop goes at the very end, after any quotation marks or brackets.

e.g. The Minister said the superannuation industry was “changing quickly”.

>>> “changing quickly” is not a full sentence, so the sentence needs to go outside the quotation marks.

Where does the full stop go, inside or outside the brackets?

If the bracketed phrase is a complete sentence on its own, it gets its own full stop inside the brackets.

e.g. QSuper offers different types of insurance. (At the time of writing, these are death cover, TPD cover, and IP cover.)

Where the quote or bracketed phrase is just a clause – it’s not a full sentence – the full stop goes at the very end, after the brackets.

e.g. QSuper offers different types of insurance at the time of writing (death cover, TPD cover, and IP cover).

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

When to use an apostrophe

Today’s tip is how to apostrophate.

Just kidding, that’s not a word.

How to use apostrophes – a few tips.

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1. Does a person/company/group own something? Use an apostrophe

e.g. We need your driver’s licence as proof of identity.

e.g. We are currently reviewing all customers’ accounts.

e.g. Your team’s efforts should be recognised.

e.g. We won Rainbow Unicorn’s Best Value Award.

e.g. What about James’s report?

Exception: its and your are also words for ownership, but they don’t use apostrophes (compared with it’s and you’re).

You can work out whether you’re writing the exception or whether you need an apostrophe by checking if you can replace the “its” or “your” with a name and apostrophe. If you can, then it’s about ownership.

e.g. The Group has expanded its/your working-from-home capability this year.

>>> This could be replaced with a name and apostrophe, e.g. The Group has expanded Bob’s working-from-home capability this year.

So because the sentence still makes sense after replacing the word, so “its” or “your” would be appropriate.

2. Is it a contraction (two words stuck together and shortened)? Use an apostrophe to glue the words together

Contraction are words that are stuck together and shortened, such as we’ve – a contraction or “we have”.

e.g. At our company, we’ve been looking after members for over 100 years.

It’s = a contraction of “it is”.

So if you can replace “it’s” with “it is”, and the sentence still makes sense, you’re on the right track.

e.g. At our company, it’s all about putting members first.

>>> At our company, it is all about putting members first.

You’re = contraction of “you are”.

e.g. You’re going to need to check your super balance.

3. Is it a plural? No apostrophes

e.g. PDSs, FAQs, MPs, 1980s, he’s in his 50s.

I cringe every time I go to my favourite fish-n-chip shop because the lovely owners’ sign says they have “new special’s every week”. (And yes, we do occasionally chat with them about their sign, but the owners are just too sweet and I always end up hearing all about their grandkids and asking them for advice about my daughter’s toilet training, because y’all know – relationship is more important than grammar.)

4. Is it another type of abbreviation (not a contraction)? No apostrophe

e.g. When we’re referring to legislation, it’s “Cth” not “C’th”.

I think that about covers it (not “cover’s it”), but if you have questions or exceptions you’d like to talk about, please comment!

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

When do you need hyphens when writing in Australia?

Why do we hyphenate some words and not others? Is it the death of the hyphen? Not quite yet.

In 2019, some AP Stylebook updates caused an uproar in the editing world – and it’s always funny when writers riot (check out Twitter if you don’t believe me).

The uproar was because the AP editors reduced the number of words they recommend have a hyphen and said the English language changes over time.

After all, we don’t put a hyphen on “e-mail” anymore, do we?

So here’s a few guidelines you can follow – and I stress that they are guidelines, not rules…

HYPHENATED and NON-HYPHENATED is ironic, a meme from Star Wars featured on ME.ME
Image source: Me.Me.

1. Use hyphens for compound words

Where two words make one idea (compound words), and that one idea is an adjective (a describing word), keep your hyphen.

e.g. Many well-known celebrities live in Australia, and their award-winning movies and TV shows provide world-leading entertainment. Hopefully, they don’t earn tax-free income, because everyone needs to pay tax. That’s what my sister-in-law says, anyway, and she works full-time as an in-house music teacher.

2. No hyphens on prefixes

Prefixes like the “dis” in “disadvantage” don’t usually get a hyphen, because they’re not a full word on their own.

3. No hyphens on words in languages other than English

If it’s not English, don’t add a hyphen unless that language has hyphens in their alphabet.

For example, the phrase pro rata is Latin, not English, so even when you’re using it as an adjective, you don’t hyphenate it.

e.g. Good companies should offer pro rata fees, so that if you’re not with the company for the whole year, you don’t pay the full annual fee.

Similarly, taekwon do is Korean, so you shouldn’t really put a hyphen in it, like “taekwon-do”.

4. No hyphens on adverbs

If the words end in “LY” you don’t need the hyphen because the first word in the compound phrase is being used as an adverb.

Phew, we’re getting nerdy now, aren’t we?

e.g. An easily remembered rule does not need a hyphen between easily and remembered.

5. Use hyphens on word clusters or unclear phrases

If the words are a noun or adjective cluster (lots of nouns or adjectives in a row), or not a normal phrase, or the meaning might not be perfectly clear otherwise, keep the hyphen.

e.g. I hyphenate many open-minded philosophies (adjective cluster), but not when it comes to climate change realities (noun cluster, but a normal phrase). Because everyone knows about climate change by now.

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

How do you spell COVID-19 or coronavirus?

I detest this word at the moment, and have for 2 years so far, but today’s grammar tip is important – the correct spelling of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Do you write it coronavirus, covid, or COVID-19?

The correct spelling is coronavirus (no capital letters) or COVID-19 (all capital letters).

Everyone on social media just writes covid – heck, even I do! – but it’s not actually correct.

Now here’s why…

There should be no capital letters for the word coronavirus, because it’s just a common noun used to group several new (“novel”) viruses under one term.

It’s similar to how we use the common nouns “influenza” or “flu” is used to describe several different strains.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 is a proper noun (a name) for a specific virus strain, and it uses maximum capitals because it is an acronym. The same way that SARS was both an acronym and a proper noun (a name).

Want to get even more nerdy?

The species Coronaviridae is the proper noun, and under this species, there are a bunch of coronaviruses that are all single-stranded RNA viruses that have things in common:

  • A “lipid envelope studded with club-shaped projections” – quoting the scientific explanation because I don’t understand it and will not attempt to try! … and
  • The ability to infect birds and mammals.

Want to get EVEN MORE NERDY?

The word coronavirus means “crown virus” or “crown poison” in Latin, after the way that lipid envelope studded with clubs looks a bit like a crown or a garland.

Scientists love our oldest languages, don’t they?

Tom and Jerry meme where Tom the Cat is labelled omicron, and Tom pokes the Jerry mouse with a sword, but Jerry just says I don't care anymore.
Image source:

So what does omicron mean?

In Latin/Greek, omicron just means “little o”. Same way delta is just the name for the “d” in the Greek alphabet.

To quote the experts directly for this one:

“The Greek alphabet has two letters corresponding to our letter ‘o’: omikron (also spelt omicron in English) whose name means ‘little o’ and omega, whose name means ‘big o’. In Greek today they are pronounced the same, but in the ancient language there was a difference between them, probably like that between the sound in the English words ‘hot’ and ’no’,” Roderick Beaton, Emeritus Koraes Professor of Modern Greek & Byzantine History, Language and Literature at King’s College London, said.

Source: Reuters, December 2021.

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

Weird Al parody song teaches grammar – not even kidding, y’all

Weird Al just released a parody of ‘Blurred Lines’ (uh-huh, that catchy song that gets stuck in your head so easily) called ‘Word Crimes’.  In this beautiful video – using beautifully-animated flowing word graphics, I might add – he explains the basic rules of grammar that, like, everyone, like, gets wrong these days?

All I can say is:


I laughed so hard I cried. And it’s all correct, as far as I can see!

Oh, Al. I’m so proud.

Teachin’ y’all how to conjugate…


If you can’t view this video, visit TIME Magazine’s link to it:


This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.