10 Rules for Writing Numbers and Numerals
How do you express numbers in your writing? When do you use figures (digits) and when do you write out the number in words (letters)? That is, when do you write 9 and when do you write nine?
1. Number versus numeral. First things first, what is the difference between a number and a numeral? A number is an abstract concept while a numeral is a symbol used to express that number. “Three,” “3” and “III” are all symbols used to express the same number (or the concept of “threeness”). One could say that the difference between a number and its numerals is like the difference between a person and her name.
2. Spell small numbers out. The small numbers, such as whole numbers smaller than ten, should be spelled out. That’s one rule you can count on. If you don’t spell numbers out it will look like you’re sending an instant message, and you want to be more formal than that in your writing.
3. No other standard rule: Experts don’t always agree on other rules. Some experts say that any one-word number should be written out. Two-word numbers should be expressed in figures. That is, they say you should write out twelve or twenty. But not 24.
4. Using the comma. In English, the comma is used as a thousands separator (and the period as a decimal separator), to make large numbers easier to read. So write the size of Alaska as 571,951 square miles instead of 571951 square miles. In Continental Europe the opposite is true, periods are used to separate large numbers and the comma is used for decimals. Finally, the International Systems of Units (SI) recommends that a space should be used to separate groups of three digits, and both the comma and the period should be used only to denote decimals, like $13 200,50 (the comma part is a mess… I know).
5. Don’t start a sentence with a numeral. Make it “Fourscore and seven years ago,” not “4 score and 7 years ago.” That means you might have to rewrite some sentences: “Fans bought 400,000 copies the first day” instead of “400,000 copies were sold the first day.”
6. Centuries and decades should be spelled out. Use the Eighties or nineteenth century.
7. Percentages and recipes. With everyday writing and recipes you can use digits, like “4% of the children” or “Add 2 cups of brown rice.” In formal writing, however, you should spell the percentage out like “12 percent of the players” (or “twelve percent of the players,” depending on your preference as explained in point three).
8. If the number is rounded or estimated, spell it out. Rounded numbers over a million are written as a numeral plus a word. Use “About 400 million people speak Spanish natively,” instead of “About 400,000,000 people speak Spanish natively.” If you’re using the exact number, you’d write it out, of course.
9. Two numbers next to each other. It can be confusing if you write “7 13-year-olds”, so write one of them as a numeral, like “seven 13-year-olds”. Pick the number that has the fewest letters.
10. Ordinal numbers and consistency. Don’t say “He was my 1st true love,” but rather “He was my first true love.” Be consistent within the same sentence. If my teacher has 23 beginning students, she also has 18 advanced students, not eighteen advanced students.
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207 Responses to “10 Rules for Writing Numbers and Numerals”
Most of these are correct. But, concerning 7, the percentage symbol should not be used in everyday writing. The percentage symbol is for business use, such as visual presentation. In other forms the word “percent” should be used. Also, your example in 10, concerning the students, is correct because the numbers are related. But, if the numbers aren’t related, then the “rule of ten” applies. Here’s an example: Sadly, there were only eight computers available to the 23 students.
As always, the tips provided here are valuable for many. That’s why I keep coming back “daily.”
Jay, good point on number seven. I think you should use digits for everyday writing and spell the percentage out in formal writing (like a newspaper article). I added this remark.
I believe there is a rule on using numbers with age as well, right? As in “always use figures to represent the age of a person.”
I was not aware of those of these rules, cool.
Is the comma used as a thousand separator everywhere English is spoken, or is that just an American rule?
Berto, that is the English standard, so it should apply both to UK and US.
Notice, however, that some places around the world use the dot as a separator and the comma to denote decimals.
To add confusion, the International System of Units recommends to use spaces to the sets of three digits, and use the comma or period just for the decimal.
I just added this info to the post, thanks for asking.
#2 is one that I always have a dilemma with. I know with AP style writing you’re suppose to write numbers you’ve stated in #2. In MLA style, you write one, five, twenty-one, one hundred, eighteen hundred, but write 5½, 101, 3,810. I actually like the AP style better with writing out one through nine and ten on, writing it as 10, 11, 12, etc.
I am curious though, your #2 you said “The small numbers, such as whole numbers smaller than ten, should be spelled out.” Why have you not wrote 10 as “10” since only numbers smaller than 10 should be spelled out?
Oops, that would make sense. But see rule #3!
Deron, point two says that all whole numbers smaller than ten should be spelled out. It does not say anything about number equal or greater than ten. In fact, if you then read point 3 you will see that there is no standard rule for those numbers, some authors like to write them in digits, others still prefer to spell them out.
60 in 3
Heh, now I feel bad for naming my blog 60 in 3. Oh well, thank you as always for the great tips.
1. Number versus numeral. First things first, what is the difference between a number and a numeral? A number is an abstract concept while a numeral is a symbol used to express that number.
5. Don’t start a sentence with a number. Make it “Fourscore and seven years ago,” not “4 score and 7 years ago.”
Shouldn’t that be:
5. Don’t start a sentence with a NUMERAL.
Last time I checked, “four” and “4” where both numbers…
van, number 5 is fixed, thanks for the heads up.
Then, “four” and “4” are both numerals used to express the concept of “fourness,” they are not numbers themselves, they are symbols.
It is quite confusing I know, and probably not useful for the average writer. The other rules do apply though.
I suppose it depends what grammar book you want to fall back on, but it would easy to argue that you’re flat-out wrong about when to spell out numbers.
Use numerals before anything that can be measured: 3 decades, 3 years, 3 GB but not 3 children.
Use numerals when using a single digit number and a number composed of two or more digits in the same sentence. “Bob ate 3 cows and 12 pigs,” not “Bob are three cows and 12 pigs.”
One more for your list: Spell out any number used in a quote: “…four score..” and not “…4 score..”
Michael, 3 years you say? Well, here is a quote from the NY Times:
“Dobbs’s correspondents said there had been 7,000 cases of leprosy in this country over the previous three years, far more than in the past.”
“the difference between a number and its numerals is like the difference between a person and its name”
..a person and his name
or ..a person and her name
but never ..a person and its name
Bill, fixed that. I was thinking about an object and its name 🙂 , like the words that define it.
What I think it boils down to is: try writing the numerals in words; chances are that’s the right way. If words are obviously more confusing than digits, use digits. For example: “the second chapter”; “she’ll be eleven years old in two days”; “it’s the third road down the right”. These are all correct. But “seventeen point twelve percent of the data applies to all of our six hundred and forty two units and the rest only concerns the items that are stored in area three seven two” is confusing, and the numbers here should be written in digits. It’s more flexible than the rules above, but it follows the same spirit.
The comma is an English rule, so it must apply in the US as well.
(NOT the other way about)
#4: The UK is in Europe. We do not use a comma as you describe. Thanks anyway.
Also whilst we’re talking about international numbering, isn’t it about time that the USA moved on from imperial measurements to metric like the rest of the world?
Good point Emmanuel, common sense should help here as usual.
I didn’t know about all the rules. I visited this for the first time but I liked it. I will visit it regularly.
Keep it up.
Hey Daniel, thanks for pointing that out. My mistake on misreading what was there. 🙂
With that said, since there is not standard rule, what is your own personal preference?
I’ve been reading quite a bit about typography lately, which has impressed on me another rule that you should add to your list:
In the flow of a typical sentence (i.e. for ‘inline’ numbers), you should use “lower case” numbers.
Yes, you can have lower case numbers!
@James And about time the UK used kg instead of stone to denote body weight
James, enjoy 2.5 dl of tea
You can write it out when it is two words or less. Twenty is acceptable. Twenty-four is acceptable. If it requires more than two words, you should use the numbers.
So you say to spell out twelve, but then you say “12 percent”? Shouldn’t it be “twelve percent”?
Nitro, we are not saying you should spell out twelve. The only standard rule, as stated in point one, is to spell out whole numbers smaller than ten.
Other than that it is up to the author and his preference for the specific situation.
Personally I like use digits above the number te because it makes the text more clear, like “15 percent.” For smaller numbers you can spell them out though, like “five percent” or “two percent.”
These standards are good for English, but why not broaden the standard to multiple languages?
Why not just remove spelling out of numerals completely and standardize on using Arabic numbers? Then the numbers would never have to be translated except to traditional less used numbering systems. Then people who read the articles in foreign languages like French, Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, Russian, and a plethora more could understand without mentally having to translating from the English naming convention into their own numerical naming convention.
gr commenent Pascal-its g 2 c read comments from ppl with g sense of humours. ur a *!
Out of interest how would write operators?
PS you need a subscribe to comments option
Everton, it is on the “to do” list 🙂 .
Thank you very much for providing this very valuable lesson in writing skills I’ve always wanted to acquire.
Good tips. I’m enjoying this website quite a bit. 🙂
One more point I’d add, though, is using numerals for lists. It helps one remember the number itself more easily than if you had spelt it out, and aids quick comparison. E.g.,
4 cartons of milk
1 roast duck
Don’t you think the title should have been Ten Rules for… instead of 10 Rules for … considering your own guidelines?
Mike, usually titles have different rules, as far as typography goes at least (we should have covered that perhaps).
Like titles usually have all the words starting with capital letters, you don’t write that way normally.
That said, even if you consider our guidelines the “10 Rules” is congruent with points two and three. They state that numbers smaller than ten should be spelled out, and after that it is preference of the author.
Thanks Daniel. As you mentioned that titles have different rules. I feel the title should start with a word. It looks more aesthetically pleasing. Not sure whether anyone agrees with me.
Mike, I agree with you 🙂 . Maybe starting the title with a word is more pleasant, I will research about it and even experiment with it in the future.
You shouldn’t write “percent” ever. It’s wrong like “etcetera” is wrong. Put the space between the words: “per cent”.
Very well written list.
Now if we could teach all newscasters and advertisers how to SAY numbers I would be in heaven.
Seems they all got stupid in the year two thousand AND one.
It is funny when people come and say: “hey, you should not say that, ever!” or “you are dead wrong here!”
Just make a quick search on the net before posting such strong statements.
Per cent is the preferred British form, and percent is the American usage. Open the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal and you will find “percent” everywhere.
Thanks for the comment though, it served the purpose of clarifying this point.
There were many points, which I havent known until I read this article. But seems some of these rules are not practicable special ‘dot’ and ‘comma’ rule.
I never really new there was a difference. Thanks for the post. Very informative!
What is correct:
“It’s my 13th birthday” or “It’s my thirteenth birthday”?
mohamed abu shatrar
I like to know how to write the number seven hundred two thousand, three
as i am the first visitor of this web site so i have no comment writs now .
what about: 24-7 (VS) twenty-four seven ??
How would you write 1.5 to 2 acre lots?
ABDULLAH AL MASUD
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Which is correct?
We celebrated our ninth birthday party together.
We celebrated our ninth birthday partys together.
D R Brubaker
All of the discussions and the “10 Rules for Writing Numbers…” is very informative, however, I came looking specifically for one apparently unwritten rule: How to write 3 or more digit numbers. For example I know it is incorrect to write or say one hundred AND three. It should be one-hundred-three. Sadly, I cannot find any reference to this. Someone please help me! I tried to point this out to someone on another blog and they refuse to believe me saying it doesn’t matter. I need a concrete rule or something of substance to reference to direct this misinformed “student.” Thank you.
D R Brubaker
Please excuse my error in the first sentence. I am nervous.
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I was not aware of these rules thanks for the information!
wow. Rules for writing numbers!!! great information.
thanks for the info. I’m always forgetting rule number 2… i mean two!
thanks for info. i agree with Jack
this article is interesting. I’m looking forward to not breaking any of these rules!
Would any body someone write the spanish numbers out for me.
Also Send it to my E-Mail. email@example.com
Thank you all and ecspecially the person who lets me know how they are spelled.
If you have a.m. or p.m. at the end of the sentence do you need a period?
For example: The party starts at 7 p.m.
I’m so late in finding your blog site. I am a fifth grade Math teacher. Let me see if I can add any clarity to a question from last November.
Yes, it is correct to say one-hundred-three, not one-hundred-AND-three. This is as much “math” as it is “grammar”. In reading or speaking numbers, the word “and” is used to separate whole numbers and fractions or to separate whole numbers and decimal fractions. For example, 6 1/2 would be spoken “six and one half”; 21.03 would be spoken/read as “twenty-one AND three hundredths”. And, 307,000 should be read “three hundred seven thousand”, not “three hundred and seven thousand”.
Read these two out loud: 300.007 and 307,000 to see how important an “and”, properly placed, can be. Because not everyone pronounces a good “th” on the end of fractions, the “and” is critical. Is it 121,000 or 100.021? Numerically, there is a huge difference.
I teach my math students that the “and” indicates where to place a decimal point. It separates the “whole” from the “part”.
Thus, from the first day of class, I do not allow any “ands” to be inserted in 397,241 when the number is being read aloud. (However, I can remember the days as I grew up, when “and” was spoken in every 321 or 507. That would really bother me now!) It’s a matter of getting your ear accustomed to hearing it spoken properly.
I hope I’ve been helpful.
Helpful indeed Carolyn, thanks.
I don`t have any idea about how to use comma.
how do i find the rule for numbers 4-7-8-
Starting from the right, put a comma after every three numbers. For one thousand, write 1,000. For one million, write 1,000,000. It makes the number easier to read. In some cultures, a period is used instead of a comma.
How do you write twenty five cents in business writing? Is it “25 cents”, ” $0.25″, “.25 cents”, ” 25C”, or something else? I ran across a business professional who said that the decimal point format with no zero before the decimal and the addition of the word “cents” is the correct way. Examples: .15 cents, .12 cents, .25 cents, etc. I disagree. These examples as I read them mean; 15/100 cents, 12/100 cents, and 25/100 cents, respectively. I thank you for your input.
I agree with you: to me, “.25 cents” sounds like 1/4 of one cent. Exactly how you would write a fraction of a dollar depends how official or formal your document is. For accounting purposes, “$0.25” leaves no doubts about what you mean: 25 cents or 1/4 of $1.00. Informally, at least in the US, you could say, “a quarter”. “25 cents” would also be clear to me.
Speaking of money, when writing a check for $100.25, you should always write it out as “one hundred and twenty-five/hundredths” not “one hundred twenty five” which means $125. The “and” acts like a decimal point, as far as bankers are concerned.
Kirk: I suggest 25¢, personally. To find the “hidden” ¢ key, all you have to do is press alt + 155 on the number pad. The number pad is the important part. It won’t work on the number “line” on top of the keyboard.
I agree with your analysis Michael. Thank you for the verification. I also want to thank Heidi for the info on the “¢” function on the keyboard.
How would you write 16.66 units. This is for a legal document.
What about numbers in a legal document? Do we wite out the number and then also put it in brackets after?
Emmanuel says But “seventeen point twelve percent of the data applies to all of our six hundred and forty two units and the rest only concerns the items that are stored in area three seven two” is confusing, and the numbers here should be written in digits.
You should also never, under any circumstances, say “seventeen point twelve”!! It’s pronounced “seventeen point one two”.
If you have a.m. or p.m. at the end of the sentence do you need a period?
A.m. and p.m. already have periods (full stops, in proper English :)), so I don’t know what you mean. Are you asking if you need two – like “the party starts at 7 p.m..” or something? Definitely not!
I ran across a business professional who said that the decimal point format with no zero before the decimal and the addition of the word “cents” is the correct way.
The person who told you that must work for Verizon 🙂
(Google “Verizon doesn’t know how to count” if you don’t know what I mean…don’t be drinking coffee at the time or you’ll need to buy a new keyboard)
D R Brubaker and Carolyn are wrong about the “and” thing. The lack-of-and seems to be commonly taught in the US lately (I think it’s a very recent thing), though even US style manuals point out that “and” is more idiomatic; in non-US English, leaving out the “and” sounds very strange and stilted indeed (and note that the US titles of works like “The Hundred and One Dalmations” are not altered to “The Hundred One Dalmations”, the way other USified titles are; e.g., “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” became “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in its US incarnation).
Carolyn: I’m not sure what you mean about reading the numbers aloud – they’re “three hundred point zero zero seven” and “three hundred and seven thousand”; what’s the confusion? Am I supposed to read “300.007” as “three hundred and seven thousandths”? Even the difference between “three-hundred-and-seven thousandths” (307/1000) and “three-hundred and seven-thousandths” (300 + 7/1000) is only unclear in text (if you don’t hyphenate to clarify, as I’ve done here); it’s quite clear when spoken aloud (which is more like the hyphenated version – the timing is quite different).
I’d add a couple of rules here: for large numbers, use words “ten billion” rather than “10,000,000,000”; but for very large numbers, use digits and scientific notation: write “1.8743987×10^163” rather than trying to name it (“eighteen trequinquagintillion seven hundred and forty three duoquinquagintillion nine hundred and eighty seven unquinguagintillion” or something equally ridiculous :))
i often feel confuse when i have 2 using numbering in my writing,but this explanation help me so much…
Is there a rule that says if you leave out the commas in a five or more digit numeral it is written incorrectly?
Would encourage “understanding” as opposed to just being able to “do” mathematics. This prompts:
“10 rules for writing numerals” or “10 rules for writing number names”; not, “10 rules for writing numbers”
The learning path in elementary arithmetic can be smooth if the learner and teacher understand: 1) What ” number” is. 2) The difference between a number and a name for that number. and 3) Every number has many names.
Sorry, am straying fom your purpose. Will add that saying “three point five” instead of “three and five tenths” does not encourage understanding.
hi, andar here, i just read your post. i like very much. agree to you, sir.
To the person above who pointed out that UK is in Europe – you are correct, but the article says ‘Continental Europe’. It is my understanding that Continental Europe is not commonly understood to include the British Isles (or Iceland for that matter, I presume).
It is true that in France, for example, they use commas where we would use decimal points, but the UK (where I live) uses decimal points and commas in the same was as the US. The author was careful to say ‘Continental Europe’, thus he is still correct 🙂
Questions from a police officer’s test…and wondering what is right?
I went through PA’s act 120 and I am now submitting applications & taking tests, but these questions keep coming up & I don’t recall covering any of this material.
Is a a suspect 49 years old, or forty nine years old?
Is he six feet two inches tall, or 6′ 2″ tall?
Is the correct time 8:22 PM, or 20:22?
Any help is appreciated.
Betsy Lucas asks, ” Is the correct time 8:22 or 28:22 ? Really cannot say. But if “8:22” is read “eight twenty-two” why is “8:07” read “eight oh seven” instead of “eight seven” or at least “eight zero seven” ? My point: “zero”, a name of a number, and the letter “O” are not interchangeable.
Okay, here’s my burning question: what is the name of the decade we’re in? Eight years into it, I still don’t know. The Oughts? The O-ies?
The rules stated here are correct, that is, they conform to the established rules, but the truth is these rules are not the way to write numbers the most clearly. Numerals are much easier to read than spelled out numbers, and I find “percent” instead of “%” to be a major aggravation. Sometimes I even use search and replace to change it, when I am copying snippets for my own use.
8th Grade Math Teacher
Thank you so much for the info on money! I have been trying to get my children to not put the decimal point for change when using the ¢ sign, now I have a real rational for why not to do it! Thanks, also for the (alt +155) tip…I also found that in Microsoft and OpenOffice applications (alt + 0162) works as well (both with and without using the number pad)
I never know what to use when referring to a school grade.. should it be Grade 2 or… Grade two
I am very interested in punctuation. So, I learned a lot here. Thank you for your information. (Forgive me if my English look not so good.)
Hi- This is a question: would you write out four and a half or 4 1/2? Also, what about the hyphens?
Thanks very much!
You know how you tell yourself you are studying because you have your certification books opened in front of you? But you are really clicking on Stumble Upon to find interesting posts to read?
Yeah well, I came across yours and had to write to tell you I enjoyed it very much. I gave it the thumbs up, so more people can come across it and enjoy it also.
I agree with Mike (July 31st, 2007 7:43 pm) that it would be aesthetically pleasing to make the title of this article “Ten Rules…” not “10 Rules…”. Even if it is a title rather than a sentence, it looks strange in relation to rule #5: “Don’t start a sentence with a numeral”. Is there anything to justify the use of a numeral here instead of spelling out this highly readable short word?
In a legal document, what is proper:
ten inch (10″) nails or ten (10) inch nails.
Need help please…which is correct?
Eleventh Annual Surgical Forum or
11th Annual Surgical forum
I have a question. When writing a letter with dollar amounts that doesn’t have cents, which way is correct; thirty six dollars, $36 or $36.00. Here is part of the letter that is sent; Thank you for your most recent gift of $1,000 ………..
Great article. I only read it because the title had the number 10 numeralized rather than spelled out. I most definitely like numbers (er, numerals).
i think that all this is very help ful
If I say $3300 thirty three hundred should I write a coma $3,300?
The comma suggests that the reading should include the words, “three thousand”. Consider: “3300” is sometimes read (for what purpose I know not), “thirty three hundred”. Would that person read “330” by saying, “thirty three tens” ?
good point thanks Marv
How should I use nought? Is it true that I need to say it if there’s a zero after a point for decimals? for example 0.002
When writing a formal announcement or invitation, should the number be capitalized and/or hyphenated? …as in “…respond by the twenty-fourth of September…”
I would like to know, when spelling a number in any document should we also write the number in parat. ex : I bought six (6) dresses.
Do you have to write a comma between each group of place values when writing a number in word form? For example, is 4,305 written four thousand three hundred five or four thousand, three hundred five. Is the comma necessary?
The post is really great. Thank You.
This article was most helpful, since much of the standard practice for using numbers in writing is simply convention on which we need to educate ourselves. But in the end, the purpose of all writing is to facilitate communication, and whatever promotes that goal is preferable. Many of the questions posed by the later posters above should be answered by stopping to think through that dictum.
For example, Suzi (April 9) asks whether “ten inch (10″) nails or ten (10) inch nails” is proper for a legal document. I would answer that a legal document is above all about unequivocal precision, with far less emphasis on smooth flow of narrative style, and I would therefore write “ten-inch (10″) nails”. Note that the hyphen makes it clear that the nails are ten inches long, rather than there are ten 10″ nails involved. Writing “ten (10) inch nails” is even more confusing, because it could be construed as ten nails that are one inch long. So rather than get too bogged down trying to memorize a nearly infinite number of rules, just take a little time to stop and think about the various ways that what you wrote might be misconstrued. I think that is the key to all good proofreading, an art that seems to be dying out in our age of instant messaging and dashing off an email without bothering to review it.
Another related point: the best format for good communication will vary according to the kind of document. An accounting or legal document is striving for unambiguity, and repeating a number in parentheses as suggested above or by Linda on July 28, 2009, would be appropriate. In a good novel, where the author is striving for a fluent style that draws the reader into another world and makes him forget that he’s just looking at words printed on the page, using the numeral repeated in parentheses would seem stilted and disruptive.
Remember that English is a dynamic language that is arbitrary and inconsistent, in addition to always changing. Think about who is going to be reading what you are trying to convey, and then choose the form that will communicate what you intend most clearly and elegantly. Good writing takes a some time and work with the brain engaged!
In a business letter, if you are telling a customer that he is “receiving a credit of ($15.00),” should the parentheses be used?
The desire for precision in this post is admirable, but before the advanced level, shouldn’t we master the basics?
There is no such thing as a quote. Quote is a verb, The noun is quotation.
Hey, I wanted to know about how to write years is it ok if I write the year 1962 like this?
One thousand nine hundred sixty two? or it has to be like this? nineteen sixty two?
Please I really need to know this
There are quotes not all of them brilliant though…:
“Wonderful bargains for men with 16 and 17 necks.”
– Sign in Men’s clothing store
Where would I find help in writing out time? Specifically, I always understood that when the time is straight up, the “:00” is not used. Only when there are minutes should we write them out, even if there is more that one time used in the same sentence (9 a.m. or 6:15 p.m.). Is that correct or is it more important to just be consistent? And is there a correct way to write a.m. or p.m.? A.M or P.M.? Or either without the periods?
no thanks this is no help sorry 🙁
I would like to know the answer to Shawne’s question as well. Is it AM or am, A.M. or a.m. or does it even matter?
I need some advice- I have a sentence that must start with the name of a street= 6th Street. Do I have to spell out “Sixth Street” or can I use “6th Street” since that is the exact name of the street- please help.
Capitals can change things. When writing “two”, you are supposed to “spell it out”; however, when writing “Plan 2” you use a digit. Irregardless of this rule telling you to spell it “6th Street”, if its name is “6th Street”, write it as “6th Street”.
Shawne, I do not know the answer to the first part of your question. Fortunately I can help with the second part. “Ante meridiem” is Latin for “before midday”, and “post meridiem” means after midday. Periods denote spaces in Latin abbreviations (e.g. “i.e.” means “id est” and “e.g.” means “exempli gratia”); therefore, “ante meridiem” becomes “a.m.” and “post meridiem” becomes “p.m.”. This being said, writing it “am and pm”, “AM and PM”, or “A.M. and P.M.” are still acceptable (just not perfect).
PS Although I do not know the answer to the first part of your question, I do know that in the 12 hour clock you write “noon” and “midnight” as opposed to numerals.
it is spelled “nineteen sixty two”; however, it does not look great. Try to avoid starting sentences with years, so you can write, the more attractive, 1962.
Thanks for the help with the a.m./p.m. I never equated those with the Latin i.e. or e.g. Makes sense now to me (and Cindy as well, I’m sure). Perhaps someone will sign in eventually that knows the other part of my question…
Which of the following two is correct?
(1) 8-day Tamil Nadu Tour
(2) 8-days Tamil Nadu Tour
When can we use # to represent number and when we need to write ‘number’?
I’ve always gone by the rule “if it’s below twenty type it out”.
Thank you, Michael, for the useful info. I’ve always known about Rule 2 and it’s good that I can cite you as a good source, just in case 🙂 I’m into module writing and we title the module sections as Lesson 1 plus the title of the lesson. In this case, is it okay to write Lesson 1 instead of Lesson One? Thanks.
I have always written numbers with a hyphen, such as: twenty-four and so on… but I have also seen without. Which one is correct or are both correct?
I disagree with Peter, who must be across the pond
“D R Brubaker and Carolyn are wrong about the “and” thing. The lack-of-and seems to be commonly taught in the US lately (I think it’s a very recent thing)”
No, I’m over 65, and I have always been taught exactly what Carolyn said. No “and” is needed in expressing large whole numbers. I never thought of the “and” as a decimal, but I found others who mention that as well.
Math teachers logic is different than English grammatical effect. The One Hundered and One Dalmations is not used as a counting phrase, but a descriptive title… It’s literary, not mathematical science here.
In a strict mathematics sense the “and” is useless and misleading when expressing numbers. You have completely missed the point about her examples:
307,000 = three hundred seven thousand
(how many thousands? answer: three hundred seven)
300.007 = three hundred and seven thousandths
(how many? answer: three HUNDRED AND (a little bit more) seven thousandTHs)
IF YOU WANT TO SAY 307/1000 you would say Three hundred seven thousandths. OK? not any of the above. It is distinct, and it is clear.
You can see how the and helps to separate the whole part from the fraction.
Carolyn: I’m not sure what you mean about reading the numbers aloud – they’re “three hundred point zero zero seven” and “three hundred and seven thousand”; what’s the confusion? Am I supposed to read “300.007″ as “three hundred and seven thousandths”? Even the difference between “three-hundred-and-seven thousandths” (307/1000) and “three-hundred and seven-thousandths” (300 + 7/1000) is only unclear in text (if you don’t hyphenate to clarify, as I’ve done here); it’s quite clear when spoken aloud (which is more like the hyphenated version – the timing is quite different).
Sorry, the final paragraph below these
was what Peter said. He has completely missed the point.
I would like to know about the rule when you are writing a formal paper and there is a date in time such as March 4th 2007. Do I have to write that out in lettering or is it okay to write the numbers for both the date and year?
When writing a given code with numbers and alphabet letters how can I differentiate the zero from the ‘O’letter? which one has the line through it – the zero would I imagine. !
Vivienne Diane Neal
Which is correct – Writing letters is very popular in many parts of the world or Writing letters are very popular in may parts of the world.
Well, the rules are made up by men. I think today everyone understands the evolution of languages together with how we use these languages. We create a lot of rules for convenience!
Writing letters is an activity, so it’s singular
Vivienne Diane Neal
Hi Rod. Thank you for answering my question regarding “Writing Letters is an activity, so it’s singular.
Please help me. Does the use of commas in amounts apply to foreign currencies in an English article For instance, R$ 1.000 in Portuguese would change into R$ 1,000 if the article is in English? (R$ is the symbol for Real, the Brazilian currency)
In technical writing, brackets around the number is often used.
i.e There is a (5) second delay between the conveyor starting and the valve opening.
What are your thoughts on this?
And legal documents will have both.
i.e the contract period shall be for twelve (12) months
I typeset a quarterly for a university department. The number of contributors can be from 8 to 20, and their papers are in several European languages. When I first received the Word files from the authors one of the first things I noticed was that the expression “the sixteenth century” (or anything of the kind) was written in English in several ways (XVI c.; XVIth c.; XVIth century; the 16th century, and so on and so forth). With a view to uniforming the expression, I decided to change all variants into “the XVI century”: the editor of the quarterly has observed that the majority of the contributors (most of them French) don’t like my choice because it is seldom used, and they prefer to change it into “the XVIth century”. In Italy the use of “XVI° secolo” is rightly considered wrong since the roman letters are naturally ordinals and don’t accept the small circle the end: it should always go with cardinals to transform them into ordinals. The same applies to British usage (as I have read in various English grammars). Sorry for the longish letter. What is your opinion?
Very interesting this site of yours. I have already bookmarked it.
All major publications have their own style guides, and they all conflict on this topic. When in doubt – go with the style manual of the publication you’re targeting.
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Good morning, I would like to say thank you for an awesome web site about a topic I’ve had an curiosity in for some time now. I’ve been looking in and reading through the comments and so only wanted to express my many thanks for giving me some very helpful reading material. I look ahead to reading more, and getting a more active part within the chats here, whilst picking up some knowledge as well!
my problem is with the hyphen in fractions.
is it twenty one and eighty seven hundredth or is there a hyphen (or two) to use in the “eighty seven hundredth” part?
it is 21.87, of course.
First question: yes, write 9 a.m.
Second question: typographically, small-caps are preferred, so it looks like “A.M.” but is the same height as lower-case; that’s often turned into upper-case in “typewritten” text (i.e., where small-caps are not available), and eventually that turns into capitals even when small-caps are available (the same thing happened with the operating system often (mis)written “UNIX” — it’s supposed to be “Unix” with “nix” in small-caps, or perhaps all in small-caps), but I’d generally go with lower-case when you don’t have small-caps.
@Marilyn: I disagree with Peter, who must be across the pond
No, I’m over 65, and I have always been taught exactly what Carolyn said.
Well, anything post-WWII fits into my definition of “very recent”, but Carolyn mentioned that “I can remember the days as I grew up, when “and” was spoken in every 321 or 507”, so unless Carolyn is a good deal older than you it doesn’t seem to have been universal.
307,000 = three hundred seven thousand
(how many thousands? answer: three hundred seven)
Three hundred and seven thousand. How many thousands? Three hundred and seven. What was your point?
300.007 = three hundred and seven thousandths
First, I would never read it that way. I’d say “three hundred point zero zero seven” (and if you wrote it as a fraction I’d say “seven over a thousand”, not “seven thousandths”). Second: it doesn’t matter anyway because “three hundred” isn’t at issue: make it 302.007, and if you force me to say “seven thousandths” I’d read it as “three hundred and two and seven thousandths”, with “and” occurring twice (and there’s a short pause before the second “and”, which is destressed to point of being barely a grunt…)
So no, I can’t “see how it helps”; quite the contrary! I know Americans talk that way, so I wouldn’t actually be confused on this point, but I’d want to interpret “three hundred seven” as two numbers: 300 and 7.
(I wonder what you make of “four and twenty” blackbirds…or even “four score and seven” years…)
@Vivienne: Which is correct – Writing letters is very popular in many parts of the world or Writing letters are very popular in may parts of the world.
Presumably “writing” here is a noun (gerund), hence the subject is “writing”, not “letters”. Writing is singular, so you want “is”. (It could be interpreted with “writing” as an adjective modifying “letters”: if there were such as thing as a “writing letter” and these things were popular, then it would be “are”…)
@J. Alcantara: Yes, write R$1,000 with a comma.
@Mario: I agree, it should be “XVI century”.
I need help with a letter to a university
is this correct?
“….would be responsible for seventy five percent (75%) of the tuition if withdrawal was made within the first three weeks of the quarter. I attended only one and one half (1 1/2) days of classes..”
not sure about any of the numbers now
So how would you write out –
1 out of 24 cases resulted in …. OR
One out of 24 cases resulted in ….
FOllowing up on my earlier post… OR is it
One out of twenty four cases resulted in ….
I have to disagree with Jay on the first comment. The ONLY reason why AP didn’t use the % symbol is because teletype didn’t support it. This is the digital era so archaisms like that need to be broken.
I just came here to check whether it’s correct to write out a number or not, but you guys have a huge discussion going on down here! Very interesting!
I am editing a memoir that has a person’s age in it frequently. It is not written consistently and I would like to know the correct way to do it.
For example, he says:
“when I was nearing thirty-five”
“I was 35-years old”
“at age fifty”
“before I was 21”
“in my sixties” and “in my 60s”
“between 25 – 30 years of age”
“between twenty-five and thirty years of age”
How should I be editing all of this?
Outstanding website. Thank you, Michael
Thanks for some good snippets in here.
‘But not 24.’ Of course. You’d write four and twenty 😉
Wondering which is correct way to write time numbers less than ten in a formal sentence. Should one write “The clock struck at 1 am” or “The clock struck at one am.” Advice on the correct phrasing would be appreciated.
Hey Jay (1st comment)
You were quick to find something wrong with the article, so you could swoop in and save the day with your superior knowledge of numeral guidelines, which is wonderful, because we should all aim to challenge one another in a healthy and good-natured way, but you seriously left me hanging when you failed to explain to me “the rule of ten.”
Personally, as a self-proclaimed writer whose mastery of the craft pales in comparison, I found this article to be fantasitc. It pretty much cleared up the questions that came up in my head EVERY single time I came across a number.
That was before I got to the comments. Now I find out I may have been completely misguided, and I was just about to learn the truth and this is what I get. (Ready?):
1.It’s called the ‘Rule of ten(10)’
2. An example is: ‘Sadly, there were only eight computers available to the 23 students.’
Excuse my ignorance, Jay but I’m not getting it.
Damn, why did I read the comments?!
annoyed by grammar
get rid of spelling out numbers altogether.
These are what we call traditions.
They spawn when lots of people think the same.
In many cases, they can be a shackle. Let people spell out numbers, but do not require it. Here are some reasons why:
It’s more compatible with other languages to use numbers, it’s more productive and takes less time to write or type lots of numbers, and it’s really hard to read mathematical sentences like
“ten-thousand and twelve times fourteen” rather than “10,012*14”.
This discussion is very interesting, but what about when writing
say, the numeral 7 followed by the written (seven)?
eg. there were 7 (seven) horsemen, or should that be
There were seven (7) horsemen??
One thousand nine hundred or One thousand and nine hundred, which is correct?
Linda M Au
babu, the first one is correct in writing.
Another general question: Why no mention of the Chicago Manual of Style? I do book proofreading, and the standard there for things like this is CMOS, which has a convoluted set of rules for how to use numerals in print. They suggest spelling out numerals up to ninety-nine in running text, with a gazillion exceptions for all sorts of mathematical and/or technical contexts, as well as mixing words and symbols in the same paragraph, etc. etc.
I tend to now use their rules in most of my own writing. At the very least, I’m being internally consistent.
Oh, and why does no one here put the period inside the closing quotation mark? So many comments here have it outside. That is U.S. standard. U.K. would put the period outside the quotation mark. Just asking! Too many U.S. folks get this wrong!
Don’t we already know about writing and reading numbers?? These people are kinda stupid don’t you guys think??? Well that’s what i think mostly.
Cool post. Thanks for share 🙂
Which one is correct:
1) $10-$20 or $10-20
2) 20-30% or 20%-30%
i have got a doubt on this sentence
what is the correct grammer usage for “out of the 24 cheques given 15 cheques were cashed”..i am sure this usage is not correct..please do tel me the correct usage
thanks a ot
This is really amazing. All the while I am using the right way to write numbers, only to find out that I am wrong in some aspects. hahaha.
You people are driving me insane. I’m only here because I’m remote and away from my MLA and other style guides.
AM/PM is different from am/pm because AM/PM refers to 24-hour (yes, that is correct) time. am/pm or a.m/p.m. time is the twelve noon, twelve midnight.
I am searching for a shading difference between am/pm and a.m/p.m., but I am *not* going to find that here.
Hi, If i am listing bullets like so.
– 1 months arrears
– 2 missed credit card payments.
Should the m in Month, and yje M is missed be capital?
How should the following be written,
‘….re-terminate with an ⅛” quick connector supplied in the kit’ or shousle it be ‘…re-terminate with a ⅛” quick connector supplied in the kit’. I am confused.
I have a clause to enter my financial details expressed in $1000. For example who would you write $ 3960380 expressed in $1000. Please advise
For the past 30 years I have written my check as follows:
$4,653.35 is written as Four-six-five-three ————-35/100
My bank in Cincinnati and now on Hilton Head have always accepted my way. Now the bank has a new manager and he refused to approve a 15,000 dollar check.
Does he have a legal right to do so?
Thank you, Barth
how to spell this number 910603234300000?
Thank you for this very informative article. You have made sense of this topic by writing unique, original content. Its easy to read, engaging and smart. Articles of this caliber are few and far between.
Could someone please explain how to write dates properly? I have a problem using: 13th June, 13th of June, June 13th…
Thanks for helping!
What about when writing time? When do we spell it out? Like 7:20, or should it be seven twenty?
You said that, Don’t start a sentence with a numeral. Make it “Fourscore and seven years ago,” not “4 score and 7 years ago.” That means you might have to rewrite some sentences: “Fans bought 400,000 copies the first day” instead of “400,000 copies were sold the first day.”
If you really follow these rules then why did you titled one of your articles as “8 Proofreading Tips and Techniques”
I was reading about halfway down and noticed someone said irregardless (looking at you J) in an answer to someone else’s question. Don’t take this guy’s answers to heart.. :/
Using the words digits and numbers: When referring to a password that is a combination of numbers and letters, just use the word “digits.”
Such as, “Please enter the last four digits of your National ID.”
(Noting that the National ID could consist of an alpha numeric combination)
Which is correct?
You can find the answer on pag four and 13.
you can find the answer on page 4 and 13.
It appears to me that, despite the “ten or larger” rule, it looks better to be consistent.
What say ye?
A very interesting article on writing. Using numbers and numerals are quite confusing to use but with this article I can now use them properly.
Thanks a lot for this wonderful info!
Instructions say to type all numbers as digits. The text reads, “we sold a lot in the fourth quarter. Fourth is an ordinal number, so would you change the text to 4th quarter?
Do I type “a” or “an” before the number 120?
These items are not a matter of correct / incorrect; they are matters of style (often nationally based):
percent, etcetera = US English style
per cent, et cetera = British English style
one hundred three = US
one hundred and three = B.
We celebrated our ninth birthday party together.
We celebrated our ninth birthday partys [sic: should be parties] together.
Neither! One celebrates a birthday, not a party; hence “We celebrated our ninth birthdays together”.
Something I see a lot (NOT alot!) lately is “… celebrated our third year anniversary”. That is a tautology: “year” and the “anni” of “anniversary” mean the same. One celebrates one’s third year OR one’s third anniversary.
“A.m. and p.m. already have periods (full stops, in proper English […])”
“Period” was what the sentence-ending point used to be called in England; this usage sailed off to the Americas and became ossified there. The English moved on and replaced the term with “full stop”. Neither is wrong nor right; they are matters of (national) style, that’s all.
“between 25 – 30 years of age”
The dash (here correctly an en rule) implies the “between”, so it’s either “between 25 and 30 […]” or just “25–30 […]”. Note: No spaces should surround an en rule (dash) in a number range.
“irregardless” – There is no such word; it is simply “regardless”.
I’m for clarity and anything that moves the words along. Thus, I’m all for using numbers–all the time. It makes no sense to me to write, “he’s coming at seven and will leave at 11.” To me it’s jarring to read it that way. I want to read 7 and 11. It’s consistent to use all numbers and speeds up the understanding of what you’re saying.
There sure are a lot of critical people on here, everyone wants to one up the article writer.
Of course, with the vast internet you have to question everything, but I think some of these people really are trying hard to think of ways to discredit the article.
QUIT IT, YOUR ARENT GOING TO GET CREDIT FOR FINDING THE FLAW IN THIS ONE ARTICLE. NOBODY CARES.
I can understand if the post is to get help with a question you have, but to post about every flaw you can find to show off- on the internet- really?
These are basic rules people to help people with basic questions about writing numbers and numerals!!
Thanks for the article, it answered my quick question.
The most “mistakes” in writing come from the adaptations used in the “colonies”.
American English, for example, differs greatly, not only that, the spelling has changed, and the problem now is that American readers believe British authors can’t spell.
Take the word “because”; the corect abbreviation is – cos’.
In the USA, it is – cause (it’s without the apostrophe too).
Then there are embarassing words such as Fanny…
I found the article helpful, it has taught me to be consistent, something very important when writing.
Question: In a document using the digits 4000, should it be 4000 or 4,000. Is there a preferred useage? Thank you.
The Zodiac, The I-Ching and The kabbalah use a form of numerology that is usually enacted by playing the lottery. The Scratch Offs and Rules of Poker Odds, are forms of degenerative and depressive actions in thinking.
We need to keep in mind the people or organizations that we are writing for. Some one mentioned MLA (Modern Language Association) and AP (Associated Press) above. Other style Guides include the Chicago Manual of Style, The APA (American Psychological Association) as well as others. Each has slightly different rules. When I write a history paper or article I’m required to use Chicago. For a newspaper it is usually AP. Each Discipline has its own requirements.
For most writing common sense prevails and the rules in this post are excellent examples of that common sense.
WOW! Is it 4:04 p.m. on July 30, 2012 already? Where has the time gone? I began reading this post on this very day five years ago and now, one thousand, eight-hundred and twenty-six days later, I am still here, reading all of these QUOTES.
Time is an equation that contracts or expands, depending on whether one writes out the numbers, or merely uses numerals, by which one solves the equation by.
…I think I have some dangling modifiers there. I hate those damned things.
Note that the spaces inside large numbers should preferably be shorter than inter-word spaces; for instance \, in LaTeX. It looks a bit strange otherwise.
How about when we write for the molecular lab procedure? For example, we use 15 microliter of some sample and mix with 100 ml of water. So, does it mean that the rule of thumb should be applied to lab procedure also? or to the recipe we make?
isn’t it about time that the USA moved on from imperial measurements to metric? We did, for scientific measures, which is the only place it makes sense. Why would you say someone is 183 cm, when you can say he’s six feet? Everyday measures are much better for everyday things. Why wouldn’t you say it’s 3 miles away when everyone knows what that means? A 200-pound man is a big man. 90 kgs? Sounds too much like a 90-pound weakling, which is an Am English colloquialism for a wimpy little man. Simply no reason to adopt metric outside the laboratory. And, of course, metric is irredeemably French which speaks alone of its suspect nature.
A.m. and p.m. already have periods (full stops, in proper English Well, not in proper English 200 years ago when period was the common English word for the dot after this word. Once again, “the British” decided to change the language for some trendy slang, and then tried to pretend it was the august original. Sorry, old trick.
In a legal document, what is proper: ten inch (10″) nails or ten (10) inch nails. That’s a question for legalese, not regular English. Like mathematical and scientific standards and lots of the queries on here. Specialized areas don’t use standard English grammar rules. Never have. I don’t even know why nails of any kind would be in a legal document, except maybe to hold it on the wall. Is it like “pricking” a sheriff’s writ?
“3300″ is sometimes read (for what purpose I know not), “thirty three hundred”. Would that person read “330″ by saying, “thirty three tens”? No. They wouldn’t read eleven as one-teen or tenty-one, either. It’s called idiom and English is full of it (meaning it has many of them). Using hundred in such a context, e.g., “The Forty-Four Hundred” is very old, established usage in English (not in mathematics).
How should I use nought? Is it true that I need to say it if there’s a zero after a point for decimals? for example 0.002 You shouldn’t use it ever, unless you find yourself in 1889. Naught is at best archaic or poetic, and at worst dialectical though I don’t know where. Use the word “zero”. It means zero. Or use the word nothing. It means nothing. Point zero zero two. Or zero point zero zero two if there is some chance of confusion.
I would like to know, when spelling a number in any document should we also write the number in parat. ex : I bought six (6) dresses. It entirely depends on what kind of document you are writing. In contracts, e.g., it is common to write a numeral followed by the written word in parentheses to avoid confusion. “You have 3 (three) days to file your reply with proper grammar.”
Irregardless of this rule telling you to spell it “6th Street”, if its name is “6th Street”, write it as “6th Street”. Except at the beginning of a sentence. Then you have to write Sixth Street, regardless. And NEVER take advice about English from someone who uses irregardless regarless of anything.
I’d want to interpret “three hundred seven” as two numbers: 300 and 7. Why? That would not make sense. Would you interpret twenty-five as two numbers, 20 and 5? You wouldn’t say twenty and five, unless you were writing a poem. It’s exactly the opposite: One would interpret three-hundred seven as the number 307, and three-hundred and seven as two numbers, like calling lottery numbers. “300” followed by “7”.
“out of the 24 cheques given 15 cheques were cashed”..i am sure this usage is not correct..please do tel me the correct usage. Certainly, “Out of the 24 checks given 15 checks were cashed.” BTW, you could write out twenty-four and fifteeen too, if you wanted to. Glad to help.
Do I type “a” or “an” before the number 120? Why would you ever use “an” before 120? “An one-hundred and twenty”, “an hundred and twenty”. “An one two zero”. Any would be equally wrong.
The most “mistakes” in writing come from the adaptations used in the “colonies”.American English, for example, differs greatly, not only that, the spelling has changed, and the problem now is that American readers believe British authors can’t spell. Arguably they can’t. If you take the position that the older is the better, in many cases it’s the British spelling that has changed and the American that has remained the same (what the British used to be, too). If you don’t want to accept that the 2 are separate dialects with distinct standards, then British has to justify at least as many alterations from the 17th, seventeenth, or XVII century as American does.
Take the word “because”; the corect abbreviation is – cos’… In the USA, it is – cause In the USA cuz is often used in dialogue as short for because. Cause is not used as a short form of because.
Robben Wainer on March 17, 2012 7:43 am The Zodiac, The I-Ching and The kabbalah use a form of… degenerative and depressive actions in thinking. Thank you for that, Robben Wainer. What board were you looking for?
Is the correct time 8:22 or 28:22 ? Really cannot say. Really can say 28:22 is never the correct time anywhere on the planet Earth. There are only 24 hours here, so it’s never 28 o’clock. That’s not an English rule, just a natural one. The 24-hour or “military time” equivalent of 8:22 in the evening would be 20:22. Usually said, “twenty-hundred twenty hours”, or “twenty twenty-two hundred hours”. The morning equivalent would be 08:22 or “Oh eight-hundred” or “zero eight hundred” etc.
When I started in journalism in the UK, we were taught “25 per cent” not “25 percent” (although percentage is of course one word). Presumably because “per” and “cent” are two words in Latin, in the same way as you would use “per annum” not “perannum”. Is this not the case in the USA?
Also, I would rarely use full points in abbreviations – so, 10pm, not 10P.M.; Dr Smith not Dr. Smith; TV, not T.V.
Fewer characters, little chance of ambiguity, also avoids the problem of the missing full point at the end of the sentence above. Exceptions are when it’s a proper noun, of course, when it’s up to the creator of the name.
Interesting article. I didn’t know the rules varied. I just assumed numbers should all be written out. Good to know. Thanks for sharing.
It’s true that writing techniques are an important art to master if you want your writing to be taken seriously.
When I did my PhD (in English literature), the style guide we adhered to insisted on ‘nineteenth-century novels’ (hyphenated, lower case when used adjectivally) but ‘novels in the Nineteenth Century’ (unhyphenated, upper case when used nominally). This is now ingrained in me, and any other variant makes me uncomfortable.
Dale A. Wood
Carol Wallace asked on February 23, 2012:
In a document using the digits 4000, should it be 4000 or 4,000. Is there a preferred useage? Thank you.
According to the rules of the International System of Units (the S.I.), four-digit integers (i.e. the ones from 1000 to 9999) may be written with or without the comma or any other kind of a mark between the digits.
Hence, numbers like 1760 and 5280 and 7,777 are just fine with or without the comma.
Sometimes it just pays to use scientific sources for such things.
Dale A. Wood
Venqax said: “Isn’t it about time that the USA moved on from imperial measurements to metric? We did, for scientific measures, which is the only place it makes sense.”
In the United States, the metric system is used in pharmaceuticals, electricity, alcoholic beverages, and other such places. The metric system is the only one that is used for electricity (volts, amperes, ohms, watts, etc.) We electrical engineers know this!
Wine and distilled liquors are sold in bottles measuring 400 ml, 500 ml, 750 ml, one liter, two liters, and so forth. There was an antique measurement in North America called “a fifth”. It was defined as one fifth of an American gallon. NOW, a fifth is defined as 750 ml exactly.
Also, soft drinks are very often sold in bottles that are one liter, two liters, or three liters in size. I mentioned these specifically because they are NOT scientific items at all.
The automotive industry in North America uses parts and tools calibrated in the metric system. This is extremely useful especially since parts and assemblies for cars and trucks are often make in one country but then assembled into complete vehicles in the other. For example, the General Motors Corporation exists in both countries, and it is very strong in Ontario in Canada, as well as in the Great Lakes states of the United States. There are also thousands of different subcontractors for vehicles. Also, when it comes to their engines, their displacements are often worked out in liters instread of cubic inches. For example, there are engines of 1.6, 2.0. 2.4, 3.0, 4.0 liters in displacement, et cetera. We all use the same size wrenches, etc., on our cars and trucks, all calibrated in metric sizes in millimeters.
American and Canadian military, naval, and air force items designed and built on metric standards – especially to enhance cooperation with our European allies in NATO, and in the case of the United States, our allies in Australia, Japan, South Korea, South America, etc. Military and naval commanders measure distances in meters and kilometers, and many weapons systems have standard meausrements like 9.0 mm (pistols), 20 mm, 30 mm, 50 mm, 75 mm, 81mm, 90 mm, 105 mm, 155 mm, and 175 mm.
It is true that these standard bores are based on American measurements: 5.56 mm (22 caliber), 7.62 mm (30 caliber), 12.7 mm (50 caliber), and 203 mm (six inches).
Many of these standards date back a long way. The standards for artillery in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps were metric back during WW II. (The standard 75 mm bore for cannons was adopted from the French Army.) Also, early during WW II the U.S. Navy needed much-improved antiaircraft weapons – rapid-fire cannon. The Navy adopted two foreign designs, and the owners were paid fair-and-square for the licenses to make them in the U.S.A.: a 20 mm cannon from Oerlikon in Switzerland and a 40 mm cannon from Bofors in Sweden.
Dale A. Wood
I agree with Venax completely:
“Is the correct time 8:22 or 28:22?” Really cannot say.
Really can say!! 28:22 is never the correct time anywhere on the planet Earth. There are only 24 hours here, so it’s never 28 o’clock. That’s not an English rule, just a natural one.
The expression “28:22” was actually a mistyping of “20:22” (in the previous) comment, but that should have NEVER been allowed to happen. The “28:22” is a glaring error, and it should have been caught and corrected immediately. Days have exactly 24 hours in them, by definition.
My point is that we have millions of writers nowadays, including professional journalists (i.e. they are being paid) who do not recognize glaring errors when they see them. Their skills at math, science, and logic are just that poor.
I think that students aspiring to degrees in journalism should be required to pass courses in mathematics, chemistry, phyiscs, biology, and statistics. We live in a world of science and technology, and people who aspire to important positions ought to be required to learn the basics of these.
Dale A. Wood
Concerning Steve Parker:
“Also, I would rarely use full points in abbreviations”.
That is just an oddity of British English that you ought to get rid of.
In North American English, we just the periods just as they do in French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Latin, etc.:
Mr., Mrs., Dr., Fr., a.m., p.m., e.g., etc., i.e., Hon., Jr., Sr., Sra., u.s.w., z.B.
Notes: Dr. means “Doctor” in English, Spanish, or German. Also, in Spanish, there is “Dra.” for a doctor who happens to be a woman, and these abbreviations inclue dentists, professors, and so forth.
Fr. is the abbreviation for “Father” – a Catholic priest.
a.m., p.m., e.g., and i.e. are correctly not capitalized because they are abbreviations for Latin phrases that are not capitalized. For example: a.m. = “ante meridian”.
Sr. means “senior” in English, but it means “Senor” in Spanish, with a tilde over the “n”. Sra. means “Senora” in Spanish.
In German, u.s.w. means “und so weiter”, and that it the German for “and so forth”. This is used instead of etc.
In German, z.B. means “zum Beispiel”, which means “for example”. This is used instead of e.g.
Depending on the context, Sr. can also mean “Sister” in English – in other words, a Catholic nun like “Sr. Margaret Maples”.
There really is something positive to say about something that is standard across many languages.
Dale A. Wood
In German, the abbreviation “z.B.” includes the capital “B” because all nouns are capitalized in German. z.B. = “zum Beispiel”, and Beispiel is a noun.
In the case of “Bundesrepublik Deutschland”, this is a proper noun. Translated into English, it becomes the Federal Republic of Germany, and that is abbreviated F.R.G. with all capitals because it represents a proper noun.
Formerly, there was an awful place called the D.D.R., the “German Democratic Republic” in English, which was neither democratic nor a republic. That was as bad as the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire!
I am helping a police officer apply for a promotion. He has worked 33 years in narcotics. He has made over 1000 arrests. Is it proper to write, “I have worked thirty-three (33) years in narcotics and made one-thousand (1000) arrests.” I’ve often seen numbers written out and then parenthetically clarified. Is this proper usage?
Diana Ann Bisares
I’m not sure if it’s worth mentioning, but there’s an exception for rule #1: dates. We say “December 9” and not “December nine.” Unless I’m not aware of some other rules?
Anyway, thanks for this article, Michael. For non-native speakers like me, it’s very helpful to have easy access to grammar guidelines like this. 🙂
I think “We celebrated our ninth birthday parties together.” is correct.
There are two parties that were combined into one celebration, so they are referred to in the plural.
Rule # 9 is there a set rule to that? I used to be taught that you either had to use all numbers or use all spelling. Your ten rules has shed some light for me.
Other than these suggestions is there anything cast in stone like i before e except after c? Otherwise it leaves a lot of ambiguity to some study I am doing.
Thank you for your help. Great web site.
I have a question concerning the slash marks that run through certain numbers when written, such as the number seven and zero. and in fact what is the proper way to write numbers in general? we have had quite the debate at work.
I have always placed marks through my number sevens and zeros as well as through my letter Z’s
R.E. Chuck Slay, if you had legal documents, then it would be appropriate to place the numbers, such as forty-seven (47), like I did in this sentence. Otherwise, just follow these guidelines.
I have never seen so much ado about so little. One rule applies every time and it is absolute in writing, “Spell out any number less than ten”.
Oops, had to fix that.
Dale Wood wrote, “(i.e. they are being paid).”
Dale, you seem very competent in your grasp of punctuation, but I see you do not include the comma after i.e. Is this an British-English standard? In US English, we include the comma to reflect the ubiquitous (or is it obligatory) pause after “for example.”
I can hear the argument for exclusion of the comma (e.g., conservation or “It’s shorthand, dummy!”), but is there a different unknown to me (is that even possible)?
In skimming through the responses I did not see a suggestion for an eleventh rule: spell out numbers within quotes and dialogue based on the notion that we speak in words and not in symbolic numerals. For example, “Jack said ‘I saw about four hundred of them on my last trip,'” rather than “Jack said ‘I saw about 400 of them on my last trip.'”
You don’t use AM/PM for military time. 0800 AM is redundant. That would be like saying it’s 8 a.m. a.m. That’s what military time notation was designed for – to eliminate the question “Is that a.m. or p.m.?”
Which is correct English?
– 1 of 10 or 1 out of 10
” Why would you say someone is 183 cm, when you can say he’s six feet? ” Your point is?
I can ask the same question, why would you say someone is 5ft and 10.8 inches, when you can say he is 1.80m?
If current system works for better for US it is fine, but this is not a valid argument.
“Do I type “a” or “an” before the number 120? Why would you ever use “an” before 120? “An one-hundred and twenty”, “an hundred and twenty”. “An one two zero”. Any would be equally wrong.”
Not equally wrong, an “an” is required preceeding a word that phonetically starts with a vowel, e.g. an eight, an SAP company, an eight hundred pound man. However i will give you the point, and it is beyond my understanding why would yo need to express an one hundred, when you can say a hundred, but that is another discussion.
By the way I am from Mexico where we use the metric system.
I am calculating numbers for a math/physics problem to unprecidented precision. Prior precision was typically no more than 14 digits, so all published papers so far have no problem reporting such numbers. Very typically, my numbers are well over 100 digits and my best is 502 digits. Do you have any recommendations for how to report such numbers in a meaningful way? Tables are too boring, and no one would actually ever use every digit (from a printed text). I was thinking about reporting the first twenty and the last ten, with a pointer to a web-stored file. But, that is only an idea. Another secondary issue is that for one problem, I have calculated over 8000 such numbers, but those are only good to 60 digits. Documenting those numbers (to be verifiable in a printed journal) seems impossible (because of the sheer number of digits). Perhaps an md5sum of a file holding them all? Any ideas? People report algorigthms for calculating pi (not their trillions of digits), but that isn’t really possible for my numbers, at least in a simple way.
Dear ‘van on July 31, 2007 9:06 am’, both are numerals, too…
Linda asks, “Oh, and why does no one here put the period inside the closing quotation mark? So many comments here have it outside. That is U.S. standard. U.K. would put the period outside the quotation mark. Just asking! Too many U.S. folks get this wrong!”
We prefer to use the term “conventions” rather than “rules” of right or “wrong”. The problem with the US “standard” for placing the end punctuation inside quotation marks is that it is inconsistent and illogical. The “rule” was established when type was set by hand and the little “.” would have fallen out if it were not wedged under the ” ” ” symbol. In the 21st century, when little is printed and certainly very, very, very little is typeset by hand – went out with Molly RIngwald hairstyles and leg warmers of the 80s – it is time to place the punctuation logically and consistently. Examples: Did the document contained the word “the”? The document contained the word “the”.
Also, when expressing whole dollar values, you do not add the decimal sign with two zeros. For example, you would write $10/hr. or $10 per hour, omitting the decimal sign and zeros.