3 Types of Awkward References to Numbers
This post describes various usage pitfalls that can interfere with clarity when numbers are involved.
Take care when using the word over before a sequence of numbers that might be confused for a figure, as in “The Ohio city will settle a lawsuit over 911 calls,” which might mistakenly suggest to readers that one or more verbs have erroneously been omitted before a reference to more than a given number of calls, rather than that 911 refers to the phone number for reporting an emergency. The sentence is easily revised to “The Ohio city will settle a lawsuit regarding 911 calls.”
Also, two numbers in numeral form should not appear in sequence, as in this example in which an age is followed by a count: “The day the slain woman was to turn 28, 3,000 people gathered at a church to recall her life.” The proximity of 28 and 3,000 with an intervening comma suggests that the number 283,000, or a similarly appearing figure, has been incorrectly rendered. (Readers will not make that assumption, but the initial confusion is distracting.)
If a publication’s style requires ages to be given in numerals, spell out the attendance count, an acceptable treatment of a large round number. If that figure is exact, change it to an estimate styled as a spelled-out round number, or recast the sentence: “On the day the slain woman should have been celebrating her 28th birthday, 3,000 people gathered at a church to recall her life.”
Finally, do not use forces or troops to refer to individual military service members, as in “Forty-four US forces were hurt in a rocket-propelled grenade attack yesterday” or “Three troops were found guilty in the black market scheme.” Use soldiers, sailors, marines, or “service members” (marines, not soldiers, should be used to refer to members of the US Marine Corps): “Forty-four US marines were hurt in a rocket-propelled grenade attack yesterday”; “Three soldiers were found guilty in the black market scheme.”
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