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10 Rules for Writing Numbers and Numerals

  • March 13 2014
  • Comments Off on 10 Rules for Writing Numbers and Numerals

Writing grammatically correct sentences have been instilled in us since elementary school. However, when it comes to knowing the proper way to use numbers in your writing, this is probably a lesson that has been long forgotten. Knowing how to properly express numbers is crucial when writing any sort of paper, nevertheless it can get complicated when figuring out when to use digits and when to spell out the number in letters, for example, when to write eleven and when to write 11. The good news is that with ten simple rules you can be well on your way to knowing how to properly use numbers in your writing.


Using Numerals vs. Numbers

To start off with knowing the difference between a number and a numeral is a key to figuring out which one to use. A number is a sort of abstract concept. On the other hand, a numeral can be considered what is used in order to represent the number. For example, “four”, “4”, and “IIII” are all types of symbols that are used in order to represent a number.  It may be easier to understand this concept by thinking of the difference between a numeral and a number as the difference between you and your name.


Spell Out Small Numbers

 Small numbers are considered to be all whole numbers that are smaller than the number ten. All of these must be spelled out no matter the type of writing you are doing. This is one of the easiest rules, as it never changes from situation to situation. Keep in mind that when you do not spell out numbers that are smaller than ten it can look very unprofessional and like you are sending a text message, which is something you do not want to portray, especially in formal writing.


Understand That There Aren’t Many Standard Rules 

Besides the rule of spelling out small numbers, there isn’t another rule that grammar experts can agree on when it comes to numbers. Often times, number rules differ from location to location, and so it is a good idea to look up the general rules for the country that you live in. For example, some grammar experts state that any number that is one word should be spelled out. On the other hand, a digit should represent numbers that are two words. For instance, you should write out twelve, but not 26.


Using Commas in Numbers

In the United States, a comma is utilized in order to separate thousands while periods are used to separate decimals. This is in order to make larger numbers more legible. For example, writing out that Alaska is 571,961 sq. miles not 571951 sq. miles. However, if you are writing in Europe then the exact opposite is true. You must use commas in order to separate decimals and periods to separate thousands. To make matters even more complicated the International Systems of Units dictates that instead of a comma or period a space should be put between three digits, while the period and comma should only be used in order to separate decimals, for example, $15 603, 23.


Never Began a Sentence Using a Numeral

This is one that many people forget about however; starting a sentence is not acceptable in the English language. For example, you shouldn’t say “21 years ago I lived in Utah.” Instead it should be, “Twenty-one years ago I lived in Utah.” This may mean that you have to change a sentence around when it involves a large number in order to make it correct. For example, stating, “People purchased 300,000 copies of the book” instead of “300,000 copies of the book were purchased”.


Spell Out Decades and Centuries 

This is another rule that many people forget about when writing. Often times you see people talk about the 16th century or the 70s however the proper way to write about centuries and decades is actually to write them out as the sixteenth century or the seventies.


Recipes and Percentages

With non-formal writing as well as recipes using digits such as “7% of Americans” or “2 teaspoons of sugar” is perfectly acceptable. However if you are writing a formal paper, it is recommended that you spell out the percentages as “45 percent of children” or “twelve percent of players” depending on the size of the number.


Rounding or Estimating a Number, then Spell it Out

When you round a number that is over a million, up or down than it is written out as a numeral and then added on to a word. For example you would say “about 343 million US citizens” instead of saying “about 343,000,00 US citizens”. This makes your writing look neater and also allows the reader to instantly grasp the number without having to think about how many zeros are in it. On the other hand, if you were writing out an exact number then you would simply write it out, For example, “343,134,434 US citizens”.


When Writing out Two Numbers That are Next to Each Other

 Your writing can get very confusing if you put two digits next to each other. For example, writing “6 12 year olds” may be misinterpreted as “612 year olds”. Instead, you should write one number a numeral and the other written out, so “six 12 year olds. Choose the number that has the least amount of letters to spell out.


Consistency and Ordinal Numbers

The last important rule concerning numbers is to stay consistent throughout your writing. You should not say that your teacher instructs 24 advanced students, but also has eighteen beginner students, as this does not look professional. Although there may not be a set standard for every rule concerning numbers, it is important that when choosing a rule to use, you stick to it throughout your entire piece of writing. Another thing to keep in mind is that when writing out ordinal numbers do not say that someone was your 1st true love but instead say that they were your first true love.


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Cameron Mackey

Cameron is the Content Manager for the Vorongo Blog. He has spent three years in various content marketing roles. When he is not working with Vorongo he enjoys photography and hiking.

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