Five foot two, hyphens too?

Q: Woe Is I saved me from an “I”-versus-“me” embarrassment in a murder mystery I wrote. But I can’t find anything in Pat’s grammar book about “six foot ladder” and “five feet two” questions. I’m on the side of not using hyphens in these cases. Hope to gain a bit of insight from you.

A: This is an issue of style, not grammar. Although style guides agree on “six-foot ladder” (they recommend a hyphen), they’re at odds about “five feet two.”

We’ll get to our opinion in a moment, but we should mention that Pat does include a section on hyphens, “Betwixt and Between,” in Woe Is I (pages 175-79 in the third edition).

And she discusses whether to hyphenate a two-word description that modifies a noun (as in “six-foot ladder”). Here’s an excerpt:

“One of the hardest things to figure out with hyphens is how to use them in two-word descriptions. When two words are combined to describe a noun, sometimes you use a hyphen between them and sometimes you don’t.

“The first question to ask yourself is whether the description comes before or after the noun. See More . . .

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