I came across the phrase ‘centuries-old architecture‘ in a video provided by BBC learning English. It’s common knowledge that a boy who is 12 years old can be called ‘a 12-year-old boy’ so why don’t they say ‘century-old architecture’ instead of ‘centuries-old architecture’?

screenshot of video with man standing in knee deep water

The whole sentence extracted from that video is

The problem is that unusually high tides often cause serious harm to its centuries-old architecture, which draws millions of visitors each year.

  • Please provide a better description for that image because I can’t see it – Laurel Sep 20 '19 at 13:13
  • @Laurel I’ve just added some details. – Thanhgiang Sep 20 '19 at 13:29

The catch is: is a number specified or not?


The exact number is specified, so the singular form is used.

However, in:

... centuries-old architecture ...

the exact number of centuries is not specified. Even more, it is obvious that the intention is to reference several centuries, not only one. Therefore, the plural form is well-chosen.

On the other hand, the following is also correct:

... century-old architecture ...

However, in this case, it is clear that the intention was to specify one century, not more. Of course, it is elliptic, because "one" should be present to make the sentence proper.

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