Are they correct?

  1. I'm twenty years old.

  2. I'm a 20-year-old student.

I wonder why the year has to add -s in the first sentence (I'm twenty years old).

What is the function of years? Noun? Adjective?

Could you please help and explain it to me?


They are both correct.

I am a twenty-year-old student:

  1. "20" and "year" are linked by the hyphen to create a single term ("20-year") that modifies "old."
  2. "20-year" and "old" are linked by the hyphen to create a single term ("20-year-old") that modifies "student."

I am twenty years old:

  1. "old" is a predicate adjective for "I." (as in "I am old.") As a single-word adjective for "I," it is not joined with a hyphen to the previous adjective, "years."
  2. "years" modifies "old," and "20" modifies "year". "20" and "years" are not acting as a single adjective for "old," so they, too, do not need a hyphen.

The easy understanding:

If the adjective phrase serves as a single modifier before the noun (student, in the second sentence), it needs a hyphen (or hyphens, as in this case). Adjective phrases have no plural forms on the words forming them (the word year you asked). When you use a noun as an adjective (year-old), it must be singular. That's why there is no -s there.

If it is after the noun, it doesn't need a hyphen (or hyphens). When the same words (years) are used not as an single adjective, which means they modify the noun separately, the noun is plural. That's why there is an -s there (unless it's She is 1 year old).

Another example:

  • The ceiling is ten feet high.
  • The room has a ten-foot ceiling.
  • Thanks a lot Safira. However, I wondering that twenty years is noun phrase so it can be plural. But I still don't understand it well.
    – nkm
    Nov 7 '13 at 16:19
  • I've modified the answer for you. Take a look.
    – Safira
    Nov 7 '13 at 23:08

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