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Hyphenation with Numbers and Units of Measure
Few punctuation marks prompt as much debate and discussion about when and
where to place them as the hyphen does.
Opinions and directives vary. GrammarBook.com aims to help
define common written English that applies proper, generally accepted
rules. Those guidelines likewise look to reinforce a precise and articulate
use of the language.
This means our guidance for our current hyphen topic may differ from the
recommendations you may find in research and scientific stylebooks.
An issue that still challenges many writers concerns the use and placement
of hyphens with numbers and units of measure. For example, which of the following are
80 lb. bag
six centimeter caterpillar
In addressing this topic, we side closer to the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. CMOS’s stance can be a bit
confusing at times; we hope to clarify it in this article.
According to CMOS, “if an abbreviation or a symbol is used
for the unit of measure, the quantity is always expressed by a numeral.
Such usage is standard in mathematical, statistical, technical, or
scientific text, where physical quantities and units of time are expressed
in numerals, whether whole numbers or fractions, and almost always followed
by an abbreviated form of the unit … Note that hyphens are never used
between the numeral and the abbreviation or symbol, even when they are in
50 ft. yacht
80 lb. bag
6 cm caterpillar
100 m dash (Note that CMOS
uses a period when abbreviating English units but not when abbreviating
further advises using a hyphen when the unit, abbreviation, or symbol is
spelled out, with the exception of percent.
six-centimeter caterpillar (Note that we spelled the number here because it’s less than ten and not used with a symbol or abbreviation.)
10 percent raise
Written English in specialized fields such as healthcare, education, and
science often adheres to its own specific stylebook. In those cases, the
stylebook should serve as the writer’s guiding authority.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
Correct the following sentences if needed. The answers appear below.
1. She served the drinks in 16 ounce mugs.
2. She served the drinks in 16-oz mugs.
3. The mugs could hold up to 16-ounces.
4. Weather predictions are about 50-percent accurate.
5. The 621-gram diamond is the largest in the world.
6. The 621-g. diamond is the largest in the world.
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Pop Quiz Answers
1. She served the drinks in 16-ounce mugs. [use a hyphen when the
unit is spelled out]
2. She served the drinks in 16 oz. mugs. [Hyphens are never used between the numeral and abbreviation, even when in adjectival form. Use a period when abbreviating English units.]
3. The mugs could hold up to 16 ounces. [no hyphen as “16
ounces” is not used as an adjective here]
4. Weather predictions are about 50 percent accurate. [hyphens are
not used with percent]
5. The 621-gram diamond is the largest in the world. CORRECT
6. The 621 g diamond is the largest in the world. [Hyphens are
never used between the numeral and abbreviation, even when in adjectival
form. A period is not used when abbreviating metric units.]
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.