(I posted this on the English Language Learners SE but apparently it isn't a good fit because it's a "why" question, so it was suggested by multiple users I post it here instead.)

In some languages, people say their age with a construction like I have X years. In English, however, you say how old you are instead. So I'm curious about what is it about the logic of English that makes this sound more natural than I have X years. All I can find is that "this is just cultural/this is just how the language evolved", but I'm sure there's some logic to it. (In the sense that I imagine natives wouldn't say things that make no sense to them, not in the sense that every little thing in a language must obey some logical rule.)

I'm also particularly interested in the logic that makes the construction I am X years old grammatical. I suppose it comes from the fact that, in English, we modify/specify words by placing words before the word we want to modify/specify. Something like:

— I am old.
— How old?
— Very old.
— How old exactly?
— 900 years old.

On my other post, someone suggested the following:

Here's a much closer model:

How tall is it? It's 50 metres tall.

How long is it? It's two miles long.

How long is it? It's 40 minutes long.

This doesn't work for all adjectives, only ones of dimension. Even other easily quantifiable ones are different:

How hot is it? It's 30 degrees hot.

How bright is it? It's 60 Watts bright.

So we might say that age is conceptualized as a kind of dimension.

Any further thoughts?

  • 2
    “I am 30 years old” means I am a 30-year-old person. There is this famous ability of English to have such long phrases as attributes, and as attributes these phrases function as adjectives made up of several hyphenated words. However, when used as predicatives (“I am 30 years old”), there are no hyphens. “X years old” is a phrase functioning as a predicative adjective, so we say “I am X years old” just the same way as “I am old/young” and not *“I have old/young”. By the way, another interesting question: why do we say “I am X years old”, but not “I am X years young”?
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 14, 2022 at 16:54
  • 2
    There is no logic to it – sorry. “I am 30 years old” and “I have 30 years” are both perfectly logical constructions that make sense and are easy to understand, as is “I am of 30 years old” (using a partitive construction) and any number of other constructions. Why some languages choose to say it one way and others another depends to some extent on the grammatical structure of the language (e.g., does it have cases or a verb for be or have), but all things being equal, it is completely random. Jul 14, 2022 at 17:41
  • 1
    @JanusBahsJacquet That would make a good answer.
    – Draconis
    Jul 14, 2022 at 18:07
  • 2
    @jlawler - English does have a verb like heissen, it's “to hight”, it's a cognate of heissen, and it's very rarely used now.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jul 15, 2022 at 10:55
  • 1
    The question is too broad, and response is poor because of it. Also the logic tag is not applicable, if you compare other Qs under that label (set theory and so on). grammar may be better, although I would prefer to look at it in diachrony, as the setup is accessible to comparative methods. Basicly, you have "a two-year-old" and go from there.
    – vectory
    Jul 16, 2022 at 7:38


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