When To Write Out Numbers

A collage of numbers.Whether you’re in business, in school, or maybe serving as a volunteer in an organization, you likely have to write numbers in some form almost daily.

When do you use numerals, the symbol that represents an arithmetical value, and when do you write out a number?

Unless your organization or publication has specific guidelines, consider these general recommendations:

Write out numbers one through nine (including zero), and use numerals beyond 10:

Only three committee members showed up today. We had 11 at last week’s meeting.
She has two sisters and one brother. Her father comes from a family of 10 siblings.

But when the numbers, whether single or more digits, are in the same sentence and relate to the same thing, make them consistent:

We had 15 volunteers at our organizational meeting, 9 at the event the following week, and 7 who offered to help next year.
Her two sisters, one brother and twelve cousins traveled to the reunion.

Spell out numbers that begin a sentence:

Fifty years ago, my parents began their married life together.
But: My parents have been married for 50 years.

Always use figures for ages; dates and clock times; money; percentages; dimensions and weight; and temperatures: 

Will all children ages 7–12 please line up in the hallway.
We’ll meet on February 14 at 7 p.m. for a Valentine’s Day dinner.
How could you spend $10 on candy?
That’s 100 percent of your allowance!
The box is 9 inches long by 7 inches wide by 5 inches high, and it weighs 12 pounds when packed with books.
When it reaches 110 degrees in Arizona, I’m ready to head for Wisconsin.

Use numbers for mixed fractions, but write out other fractions:

Add 1½ cups of flour to the mixture.
Nearly one-fourth of the students failed the exam.

And here’s my last Killer Tip on numbers:
When expressing dates, avoid ordinal numbers (5th 3rd 2nd):

June 20 (not June 20th) marked the summer solstice this year.
Many of us dread April 15 (not April 15th), the day we must pay income tax.
Happy Fourth (not 4th) of July!

There are guidelines for numbers in the names of aircraft, ships, spacecraft, military units, betting odds and more, but I don’t consider those part of everyday language.

If you have a question related to numbers, let me know. You can count on me to respond!

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)