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Writing Numbers as Both Numerals and Words

Many readers have asked me why people write numbers this way:

Example: We will need 220 (two hundred twenty) chairs.

While it is often unnecessary to have both numerals and words for the same number, and can come off as pretentious, there are two reasons for using both:

1. You are more likely to make an error when typing a numeral than when typing a word AND much less likely to spot the error when proofreading.

2. If your document is dense, has a lot of numbers, or contains large numbers, the numerical form helps your readers scan information quickly.

So by typing a combination of a numeral and a word, you are almost guaranteed accuracy and ease of reading.

 

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Posted on Thursday, April 15, 2010, at 2:13 pm


Numbers as Adjectives

A subscriber recently wrote in with a question that’s a good followup to last week’s Tip of the Week, Writing Numbers:
“When are hyphens used with numbers? Is it 13 feet or 13-feet; 12 hours or 12-hours?”

Rule: Generally, hyphenate between two or more adjectives when they come before a noun and act as a single idea.

This rule can also be applied when a number and a measurement unit taken together form an adjective, that is, when they describe another object.

Examples:
A 22-inch monitor is too big for my desk.
Nurses work 12-hour shifts.
Anthony swung his five-pound hammer.
In the previous sentences, the measurements, such as 22-inch, describe specific objects, such as monitor.

When measurements are not acting as adjectives, hyphens are not needed.

Examples:
Suzanne won the race by 25 yards.
Twelve hours later, she was exhausted.
Anthony’s hammer weighs five pounds.

Pop Quiz: Choose A or B.

1. A. I can’t believe she wrote a 33-page treatise on how to screw in a light bulb.
1. B. I can’t believe she wrote a 33 page treatise on how to screw in a light bulb.

2. A. I can’t believe she wrote 33-pages on how to screw in a light bulb.
2. B. I can’t believe she wrote 33 pages on how to screw in a light bulb.

3. A. Harold found a 110-year-old book at the flea market.
3. B. Harold found a 110 year old book at the flea market.

4. A. Harold found a book that must have been 110-years-old at the flea market.
4. B. Harold found a book that must have been 110 years old at the flea market.

Answers

1. A.
2. B.
3. A.
4. B.

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Posted on Thursday, March 5, 2009, at 4:07 pm


Writing Dates and Times

Rule: The following examples apply when using dates:

The meeting is scheduled for June 30.
The meeting is scheduled for the 30th of June.
We have had tricks played on us on April 1.
The 1st of April puts some people on edge. (Some prefer to write it out: The first of April)

Rule: There are differing policies for expressing decades using numerals. Some write the 1980s and the ’80s, others write the 1980’s and the 80’s. However, using two apostrophes (the ’80’s) is awkward and is not recommended.

Correct:
During the ’80s, the world’s economy grew.
During the 1980s, the world’s economy grew.
During the 1980’s, the world’s economy grew.

Not Advised:
During the ’80’s, the world’s economy grew.

Rule: Some writers spell out the time of day, others prefer numbers.

Example: She gets up at four thirty before the baby wakes up.
Example: The baby wakes up at 5 o’clock in the morning.

Rule: Some use numerals with the time of day when exact times are being emphasized.

Example: Her flight leaves at 6:22 a.m.
Example: Please arrive by 12:30 p.m. sharp.

Rule: It is clearer to use noon and midnight rather than 12:00 p.m. or 12:00 a.m.

Note: You may use AM and PM, A.M. and P.M., am and pm, or a.m. and p.m.
Some put a space after the numeral, others do not.

Example: Her flight leaves at 6:22 a.m.
Example: Her flight leaves at 6:22am.
Example: Please arrive by 12:30 P.M. sharp.

 

Pop Quiz: Correct or Incorrect?

1. The last outbreak of smallpox occurred in the late seventy’s.
2. Can you get here by 12:00 midnight?
3. Please deliver the package by August 1st.

 

Pop Quiz Answers:

1. The last outbreak of smallpox occurred in the late seventies.
2. Can you get here by midnight? (leave out 12:00)
3. Please deliver the package by August 1. (OR by the first of August OR by the 1st of August)

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Posted on Sunday, August 24, 2008, at 11:24 pm


Fractions, Decimals, and Money

Rule: Always spell out simple fractions and use hyphens with them.

Example: One-half of the pies have been eaten.

Rule: A mixed fraction can be expressed in figures unless it is the first word of a sentence.

Example: We expect a 5 1/2 percent wage increase.
Example: Five and one-half percent was the maximum allowable interest.

Rule: Hyphenate all compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine.

Example: Forty-three people were injured in the train wreck.

Rule: Replace a decimal point with and when you write out amounts on a check. You may use numerals in fraction form for cents.

Example: Fifty-two and 46/100 (“Dollars” will already be printed at the end of the line.)

Rule: Express large numbers simply. Be careful to be consistent within a sentence.

Correct: You can earn from one million to five million dollars.
Incorrect: You can earn from one million to $5,000,000.
Correct: You can earn from $500 to $5,000,000.
Correct: You can earn from five hundred dollars to five million dollars.
Incorrect: You can earn from $500 to five million dollars.

Rule: Write decimals in figures. Place a zero in front of a decimal as a courtesy to the reader.

Example: The plant grew 0.79 of a foot in one year.
Example: The plant grew only 0.07 of a foot this year because of the drought.

 

Pop Quiz: Correct or incorrect?

1. Eighty one people were injured in the train accident.
2. I wrote a check for $300, not $3,000.00.
3. Hair grows one fourth of an inch per month.
4. The tree grew .95 of a foot because of a wet winter.

 

Pop Quiz Answers: All sentences were incorrect.

1. Eighty-one
2. $3,000 (no .00)
3. one-fourth
4. 0.95

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Posted on Sunday, August 24, 2008, at 11:22 pm


Writing Numbers

Deciding whether to write numbers as numerals or as number words is a matter of style. The style for a literary publication may differ from the style for a journalistic publication. The key in all cases is to use a consistent style throughout your writing.

Many publishers of literary works, such as literary journals and fiction books, prefer that you spell out all numbers less than 101, then switch to numerals for 101 and above. In contrast, most newspapers, scientific journals, and popular presses in the United States prefer that you spell out all numbers less than 10, then switch to numerals for 10 and above. For all types of publications, if you use a numeral for one element of a category within a paragraph, you should use a numeral for all other elements of that category within that paragraph.

On its website, the highly regarded Chicago Manual of Style recommends “consistency ‘in the immediate context,’ which you might call ‘within eyeshot’—that is, anywhere you think a reader might be distracted by the inconsistency.” For instance, you might write the following: “We published 10 novels last year, 1 of which included 99 chapters.”

There is no global right or wrong, other than to be consistent within your own writing. If you’re using numerals for 10 and above, stick to that throughout your writing. If you’re choosing numerals just for 101 and above, spell out all smaller numbers throughout your writing.

For more tips on how to treat numbers in writing, see our English Rules web page, Writing Numbers.

 

Pop Quiz
Assume you are following the rules adhered to by popular presses in the United States.

1A. I needed only five copies of the test, not 50.
1B. I needed only five copies of the test, not fifty.
1C. I needed only 5 copies of the test, not 50.
1D. I needed only 5 copies of the test, not fifty.

2A. Please give Arthur four pencils with erasers and 15 blank sheets of paper to complete the assignment.
2B. Please give Arthur four pencils with erasers and fifteen blank sheets of paper to complete the assignment.
2C. Please give Arthur 4 pencils with erasers and 15 blank sheets of paper to complete the assignment.
2D. Please give Arthur 4 pencils with erasers and fifteen blank sheets of paper to complete the assignment.

3A. We will need three pies to feed 12 students and twelve pies to feed 50 students.
3B. We will need three pies to feed twelve students and twelve pies to feed fifty students.
3C. We will need 3 pies to feed 12 students and 12 pies to feed 50 students.
3D. We will need 3 pies to feed twelve students and 12 pies to feed fifty students.

Answers

1B. I only needed five copies of the test, not fifty.
Since the number five comes first, we follow the standard format of writing out numbers less than 10. Since both numbers are representing copies, to be consistent, we should write out both numbers.

2A. Please give Arthur four pencils with erasers and 15 blank sheets of paper to complete the assignment.
Since the number four comes first, we follow the standard format of writing out numbers less than 10. Since the second number represents sheets of paper, not pencils, we should use numerals as it is 10 or above.

3A. We will need three pies to feed 15 students and twelve pies to feed 60 students.
Since the number three comes first, we follow the standard format of writing out numbers less than 10. Since three represents pies, we will also write out twelve since it, too, represents pies. Since the number of students is above nine, we will use digits to represent 15 and 60.

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Posted on Saturday, April 14, 2007, at 4:33 am