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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


Writing Addresses

If you are writing an address, whether typed or handwritten, on an envelope to be mailed via the post office, do not use any punctuation. Use all CAPS. Center the address on the envelope and use a flush left margin. Put room, suite, and apartment numbers on the same line as the street address.

Example:
JESSIE SANTANA
4325 W PALM BEACH RD RM 419
SAN FRANCISCO CA 94116

If you know the four-digit extension of the zip code, the post office will be even happier with you.

Also, note that you should use RD for Road and W for West. Other abbreviations: STE for Suite and APT for Apartment.

If you are writing an address in the body of a letter, use punctuation.

Example: Please send mail to Jessie Santana, 4325 W. Palm Beach Rd., San Francisco, CA 94116.

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Posted on Wednesday, January 17, 2007, at 6:42 pm