Numbers don't just show up in math assignments, but also in everyday writing. Like many facets of the English language, there are rules for writing numbers. Yes, imagine that! There are certain numbers that we spell out in letters and others we only write as numerals. You've probably come across more than your fair share of 'Top 10' lists. Why is it not a 'Top Ten' list? Keep reading to find out.
As is often the case in English, there are some exceptions to the rules outlined below. As with other grammar rules, rules for writing numbers change according to certain style guides (i.e. Chicago Manual of Style, AP, MLA, etc.). However, here are some general rules for spelling out numbers.
Martin has two younger sisters and five older brothers.
Mary read four new books last week and seven newspaper articles.
Sixty children came to the class trip last year but, this year, there were 80.
Fifty-two miles were all she had left on her journey to Scotland.
About one-third of the group comes from China.
She filled her gas tank with two-thirds of a gallon.
The exception to this rule pertains to mixed fraction. We then use numerals (unless, of course, it comes at the beginning of a sentence):
The recipe calls for 2½ cups of nuts.
Our class art project calls for 1¼ cups of glitter.
She's bought about 12 pairs of shoes and 16 dresses in the last three months.
When numbers are in a list, it's best to keep all the numbers in the list consistent, even if some numbers are under 10 and some are over:
Incorrect: She has four brothers aged seven, nine, 12, and 15.
Correct: She has four brothers aged 7, 9, 12, and 15.
Incorrect: Mary's traveled to three European countries and 14 deserted islands.
Correct: Mary's traveled to 3 European countries and 14 deserted islands.
Are you coming to the game on May 21st?
Join our spooky Halloween party: 10/31/2018.
Incorrect: The play is on March 23rd, 2010.
Correct: The play is on March 23, 2010.
According to the latest survey, 52% of teachers live in the city.
It's good to know that only 7% of Americans say they are unhappy.
If a percentage begins a sentence, it should be spelled out:
Fifty-two percent of teachers live in the city.
Ninety-three percent of Americans say they are happy.
There were 3.73 inches of rain last month.
The mountain accumulated 8.98 inches of snow today.
When it comes to money, numbers follow their own set of rules. Money is usually written as numerals, but can be written out when the amount is vague or rounded up - "it cost two or three dollars." Here are some of the most important guidelines to keep in mind:
Currency symbols should be placed before the number, with no spaces.
Example: She earned $2,750 for that project.
Thousands should be separated by commas.
Example: Marcy inherited $35,000 from her late uncle.
Decimals should be separated by periods.
Example: Seamus only spent $149.99 on that new smart TV.
When you reach numbers in the millions and billions, write out the full word (instead of all those zeros).
Example: That new company earned $10 million in 2018.
Do not write out the currency if you've already indicated an amount with a currency symbol.
Example: I have $895 left in my checking account.
The following are special instances that may be written in multiple ways.
She lived in San Francisco in the eighties.
During the 1980s, she lived in San Francisco.
She lived in San Francisco in the '80s.
We usually spell out the time when it is followed by o'clock or when a.m. or p.m. is not mentioned. However, we use numerals when we need to emphasize the exact time and when using a.m. and p.m.
Incorrect: We have to get up at 6 o'clock to be on time for school.
Correct: We have to get up at six o'clock to be on time for school.
Correct: She gets home around eight in the evening.
Using a.m. or p.m.
Incorrect: They did not leave the party until two a.m.
Correct: The accident happened at 8:22 p.m. last night.
Correct: They did not leave the party until 2 a.m.
Also, it's common to spell out noon and midnight instead of writing 12:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m.
We came home around midnight and slept until noon the next day.
At midnight, the countdown for our trip will last until takeoff at noon tomorrow.
When in doubt about whether to spell out or write a number, it's usually best to spell it out. However, for larger numbers, you can always err on the side of numeral form:
The publishing company sold 10 million copies of my book last year.
There are 1,500 sequins on that wedding dress!
If you're ready to get stuck into some more numbers, explore those that can be expressed as a quotient with these Rational Number Examples.