Numbers: To Spell Out or Write by Lucy Adams

In this guest lesson from Lucy Adams she’s going to tell us all about whether to spell out or use figures (numerals) to write numbers. There are a few rules about spelling out numbers vs using figures (numerals) but they can vary like all rules and can change over time. But you have to be consistent within a piece of writing, and the choice is sometimes up to you. Joanne.

Have you ever thought of the way numbers should be written?

Have you ever wondered how to write short numbers like 1, 2, 3… and long complicated numbers like 1,096,567, especially in formal, academic, business writing?

1. One-figure numbers.
As a rule, numbers consisting of one figure, those under 10, are written in words.
Correct: one ticket
Incorrect: 1 ticket x

This rule is generally agreed and can be trusted, whereas there is no shared opinion on the way numbers above 10 should be written. Some grammarians stick to the point that one-word numbers like 17 should be spelled out and two-word numbers, like 35, are better to put in figures.

2. The beginning of a sentence.
Spell out all numbers beginning a sentence.
Correct: Five students knew the rules.
incorrect: 5 students knew the rules x

3. Really large numbers.
In the English language large numbers are written numerically, with the exception of several words, which should be spelled out, for example, “five million”, “thirty pounds”, “sixty dollars”
Otherwise, use figures, for instance: The population of America is 318,964,000.
Numerals consisting of more than three figures, should be separated with a comma and after every three decimals: “1,456,325”.

When you spell out large round numbers be consistent within a sentence.
Consistent: You can earn from one million to four million pounds.
Inconsistent: You can earn from one million to 4 million pounds. x
Inconsistent: You can earn from £1 million to four million pounds. x

4. Dates.
Usually dates and years require numerals: The meeting will be held on October 15, 2014.

In British English we usually write the day + month:
* 12 May
* 12 May 2014
* 12th May 2014
* Monday, 12 May 2014
* Monday, 12th May 2014
* the 12th of May, 2014 (formal)
** Careful in British English write - 12/5/14
(in American English we write 5/12/14)

In American English it's usually the month + day:
* May 12
* May 12, 2014
* Monday, May 12, 2014
**Careful in American English write - 5/12/14
(in British English we write 12/5/14)
May the 12th or May 12th are not incorrect, but are less common now.

5. Decades
We can have:
It happened in Spain in the 80s and 90s.
It happened in Spain in the eighties and nineties.
It happened in Spain in the '80s and '90s.
*Be consistent. Don't write: It happened in Spain in the 90s and the eighties. X

6. Centuries
Put the date in words: In the twentieth century… or In the middle of sixteenth…

7. Time
Use numerals. But some writers prefer to spell out the time when using “o’clock”
It is seven o’clock in the morning.
It’s 7 a.m.
It's 7 am (common in British English)
It's 7 AM

8. Numerical order.
If you use ordinal numbers in a sentence, spell them out.
Correct: The second train arrived on time.
Incorrect: The 2nd train arrived on time. x

9. Percentages.
When writing information that includes percentages, use numerals: Human body consists of 97% of water.
If percentages are used at the beginning of the sentence, they should be spelled out: Eighty percent of people... (British - percent)
Eighty per cent of people (American - per cent)

The rule also applies to recipes: Add 3 glasses of sugar…

10. Fractions.
This rule concerns hyphenated fractions: One-fourth of animal species are under threat of extinction.
Though, when it is a complicated fraction, like 2 1/3 then use numerals.

Now, you know these rules, use them and be smart. Lucy

Lucy Adams is a writer and blogger. Lucy has Bachelor of Science degree in The New York University.