I was told that compound modifiers containing a noun should have the noun in the singular, e.g., "a 20-kilometer race" and "a 40-year-old man." Which of the following is okay? A dictionary uses (a). If it's correct, why?

a. They can take their three cents an hour raise and shove it.

b. They can take their three-cent-an-hour raise and shove it.

Note: This is not a question about hyphenation. It's about singular vs. plural forms in compound modifiers.

I understand (over)simplifications are involved in the EFL/ESL world. That's why I posted my question. The situation of the OP sentence is even more puzzling in that it involves a particular number, i.e., three. Examples like "weapons system" are not so incongruous as the OP example in that the former does not have a number.

Even if "three cents an hour" (or "three-cents-an-hour") is okay as an attributive modifier, what is the factual generalization that renders it okay but rules out "a three-years-old boy"?



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