Number and Numeral Writing Tips

Question from a reader – “separated by dashes”?


Spell out or use numerals?

There is often confusion as to when to spell out numbers and when to use numerals. Just follow these rules:

  1. Never begin a sentence with a numeral.
  2. When the number is in the middle of a sentence, spell it out.
  3. When using a set of numbers, use numerals.
  4. Decimal fractions and percentages should be expressed in numerals, not in words.
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Numbers for advertising

When writing numbers for advertising, use figures for emphasis and words for formality. For example:

Don’t Miss Our 10th Anniversary Sale! (emphasis); and                                           It’s Our Tenth Anniversary Sale (formality).

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Writing measurements

When writing measurements, use numerals, not words. For example:                   Write ‘6 feet’,  NOT ‘six feet’.

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Writing decimals in words

When writing decimals in words, do not use the word “point”. For example for 10.7, do not write “ten point seven”. The correct way to write this is “ten and seven tenths”.

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Adjacent numbers

When numbers are adjacent, spell out one number and use numerals for the other. For example:                                                                                                       * We need 100 ten-page booklets.
* There were 8 six-foot high statues in the museum hall.

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Writing ordinal numbers

Spell out ordinal numbers (first, second, third, ……) in your writing.                        For example, write ‘This is my second essay’, and NOT ‘This is my 2nd essay’.

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Percentages in formal writing

In formal writing, spell out the word percent. For example:                                 ‘The figures showed an increase of 3 percent in prices’.                                     Use the symbol (%) only in headlines, tables, charts and graphs.

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Writing fractions in words

When writing fractions as words, do not hyphenate them; unless they are serving as adjectives. For example: two thirds of a piece, but two-thirds share.

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Writing time with o’clock

When writing time with o’clock, always spell out the number.                               For example: six o’clock; NOT 6 o’clock.

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Plurals of numbers

When writing decades or plurals of numbers, add s, not ‘s.                                  For example: 1980s, not 1980’s; fours, not four’s.

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Numbers in recipes

Use digits when writing recipes. For example: ‘Add 2 cups milk’. NOT ‘Add two cups milk’.

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Writing rounded numbers

Spell out numbers that are generalized rounded numbers. For example:

approximately two hundred, NOT approximately 200; or about ten, NOT about 10. 

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Numbers to stand out

Numbers less than 10 are usually written in words. But if you want your numbers to stand out, like in a resume, use figures, not words. For example:

“I have 5 years of experience”. NOT “I have five years of experience”.

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Use digits for the web

When writing for the web, write all your numbers with digits, not letters. For example: Write 25, not ‘twenty-five’. This is because users scan web pages for facts, and digits represent facts and enhance scannability.

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Numbers in dialogue

When writing numbers in a dialogue, spell them out.  For example:

“There were about 20 people at the party”, he said.  (Wrong)
“There were about twenty people at the party”, he said.  (Correct)

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Time within text matter

Time is spelled out in words if it comes within text matter. For example:

Classes start at eight o’clock.  NOT Classes start at 8 o’clock

BUT figures are used when the time is written with a.m. or p.m.  For example:

Classes start at 8:00 a.m. NOT Classes start at eight a.m.

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Question from a reader:

Dwan Abrams writes to ask –

I’m working on a manuscript and referred to the Chicago Manual of Style for a reference, yet I still have a question. I need to know whether ‘five foot eight’ should be separated by dashes or not. According to the manual, it’s not. However, I’ve seen it written as ‘five-foot-eight’ in books. Please advise.

Our answer –

No, ‘five foot eight’ should NOT be separated by dashes. Sometimes people do write with the dashes, but it is incorrect. Dashes should not be used.

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