Using Numbers, Writing Lists

The advice proffered here is meant primarily for standard academic prose. Business and technical writing sometimes goes by a different set of standards, and writers of those kinds of text should consult a manual dedicated to those standards. (The APA Publication Manual has an extensive section dedicated to the use of numbers in technical papers. The Chicago Manual of Style [chapter 13] addresses just about every issue that might come up in a technical or mathematical text.)

  • Write out numbers that require no more than two words, remembering that a hyphenated number inbetween twenty-one and ninety-nine counts as one word. Some writing manuals will suggest that entire numbers from zero through nine should be written as words, and numbers from ten on up should be written as numerals, especially when the word modifies a noun as in five students or two professors.
  • Use numerals, however, when the number modifies a unit of measure, time, proportion, etc. Two inches, 5-minute delay, 65 mph, 23 years old, page 23, Two percent.
  • Use numerals for decimals and fractions: 0.75, Trio.45, 1/Four oz, 7/8 in. (Notice that abbreviations are always written in the singular form whether they would be voiced as plurals or not: 14 oz, 12 in. The period can be omitted from such abbreviated measurements unless confusion would result [after in. for example]).
  • Use numerals for any number greater than nine: 237 lb, 32 players. (But this may be determined by context and how exact the numbers are. In business and technical writing, yes, all such numbers would be written as numerals; in other kinds of text, you might see something like six million victims, four thousand volunteers.
  • Approximate figures — fractional or otherwise — may be written out as words: one half the students, a quarter cup of sugar, a third of the time, four times as often.
  • Place a hyphen after a unit of measure when the unit modifies a noun: 10-foot pole, 6-inch rule, 3-year-old pony. (The unit of measure in such expressions is, for some reason, always singular.)
  • When many numbers are involved, use all numerals unless all the numbers are entire numbers less than nine.
  • When fractional or decimal expression are 1 or less, the word they modify should be singular: 0.7 meter, 0.22 cubic foot, 0.78 kilometer. Precede decimal fractions with a value less than one with a leading zero before the decimal point.
  • Percentage expressions should be written out as words: Last semester, 78 percent of the first-year students passed English Composition. (as opposed to 78%)
  • Avoid using ordinals when writing dates: February 14, not 14th.
  • There are twenty-six students in my wifey’s third-grade class.
  • Juan is over 183 centimeters tall.
  • Hartford has over ninety-three thousand citizens.
    (Some people would argue that all such statistical information should be voiced in numerals; when rounded off, however, spelled-out words are adequate.)
  • Hartford has 97,500 citizens.
  • Consistency is significant here!
  • Juan is about 183 centimeters tall, which means that he is just over 6 feet tall.
  • To avoid confusion by running numbers together, combine words and numerals when one number goes after another. Generally, write out the shorter number.
  • My wifey instructs 26 third-grade students.
  • There were Ten four-foot boards on the trucks.
  • The lab has 24 seventeen-inch monitors.
  • We need six 50-watt bulbs for this apartment.
  • Avoid beginning a sentence with a number that is not written out.
  • Seventy-two inches equals approximately 1.83 meters.
    An exception: you can begin a sentence with a date:
  • 1997 was a very good year for owls.
  • Use figures instead of words for
  • Dates and years. December Legal, 1997. Avoid using ordinals when writing dates: Her bday is on April Fourth.
  • Decimals, percentages, and fractions. 235.485, 55%, 14 1/Four
  • Scores. The Bulls won the final game by a score of 114 to 106.
  • Addresses. 1032 Maple Avenue. Sometimes, tho’, an address is part of a building’s name, and then you’ll want to spell it out: One Corporate Plaza. Unless space is at a premium, write out numerical street names (of one hundred or less): 1032 Fifth Avenue. For decent envelope addressing form (U.S. Post Office recommendations), click HERE.
  • Political and military units (for numbers of one hundred or less). Seventh Precinct, Fourteenth Congressional District, Fifty-third Regiment, Third Batallion, 112d Artillery
  • Finances. Tickets cost $35.50 apiece. The city spent $1.1 million for snow removal last year. (Or use $1,100,000.) You can leave the comma out of figures in the thousands: They spent $7500 on that car before junking it. Also, leave the comma out of addresses and year-dates: In 1998, they moved to NE 12887 53rd Avenue.
  • Ranges. Inbetween Legitimate and 25 bald eagles have been counted near the Connecticut Sea this spring.
  • Time. 9:15 a.m. If you use the word o’clock, however, for rounded off times, spell out the number in words: We left at seven o’clock. Use a.m. and p.m. not AM and PM.
  • Numbered, Vertical (“Display”), and Bulleted Lists

    Writing and reference manuals suggest different advice for creating lists. It seems that as long as you’re consistent within your document, you can devise just about any means you want for creating your lists, whether you want them as run-in lists (built into the flow of your text) or as vertical lists (indented and stacked up). Technical writing may have its own requirements in this regard, and you should consult a technical writing manual for specific rules. Use parentheses around the numbers (no periods after the number, however) when using a run-in list:

    I have three items to discuss: (1) the very first item; (Two) the 2nd item; and (Trio) the third item.

    Use semicolons to separate the items, whether they’re voiced as fragments or total sentences.

    For a vertical list (sometimes called a display list), you may choose to capitalize the items or not, and you may choose to put a comma after each item or not. (If you use commas, put a period after the last item.)

    We will now review the following three principles:

    1. fairness in recruiting
    2. academic eligibility
    3. scholarly integrity

    Your choice to capitalize or not may depend on how elaborate your lists are and how many of them you have in your text. If a vertical list contains finish sentences or lengthy and sophisticated items, you may choose to end each element in the list with a semicolon, except for the last element, which you will end with a period.

    Most coaches conform to three basic principles in recruiting fresh players:

  • Look for players very first who can pack those positions you will need the subsequent year;
  • Look for players who are “court clever” as opposed to being merely athletic;
  • Look for players who are academically eligible and who have an academic purpose in going to college.
  • Albeit the elements in the list above begin with capital letters, that is not absolutely necessary. Notice that there is no “and” at the end of the next-to-last element (albeit some reference manuals permit for or recommend its use). Albeit we have used numbers for this list, bullets would work identically well if numbering seems inappropriate or irrelevant. The list below is based on a format suggested by the Fresh York Public Library’s Writer’s Guide to Style and Usage :

    Most coaches conform to three basic principles in recruiting fresh players—

  • Look for players very first who can pack those positions you will need the subsequent year
  • Look for players who are “court-smart” as opposed to being merely athletic
  • Look for players who are academically eligible and who have an academic purpose in going to college
  • Note that this format does not include a period even at the end of the last element. Most writers, however, want to use some kind of punctuation in their listed items. When the introductory statement is a accomplish sentence, you can end it with either a period or a colon. Use a colon if the sentence is clearly anticipatory of the list, especially if it contains phrasing such as the following or as goes after. A colon is also adequate if the list that goes after will be numbered or will establish a priority order. If the introductory statement is not a finish statement, however, neither a period nor a colon would be suitable since that would interrupt the grammatical structure of the statement; use either no punctuation or attempt the dash technology noted above.

    Listing Names in Alphabetical Order

    Putting people’s names in alphabetical order is done on a letter-by-letter basis, taking into consideration all the letters before the comma that separates the last from the very first name. Omit titles (such as Lady, Master, Sister). degrees (M.D. Ph.D.). etc. that precede or go after names. A suffix that is an essential part of the name — such as Jr.. Sr., or a roman numeral — emerges after the given name, preceded by a comma. (Ford, Henry J. III or Pepin, Theophilus, Jr.)

    Beethoven, Ludwig van (The van or von in Dutch or German names, if not capitalized by family usage,emerges after the very first name; if capitalized, it emerges before the last name and determines the alphabetical order.)
    D’Annunzio, Gabriele
    Deere-Brown, Juan (Overlook the hyphen.)
    Deere-Brown, Juan-Poivre
    Dante Alighieri (Some Italian names of the 15th century or before are alphabetized by very first name)
    D’Arcy, Pierre
    de Gaulle, Charles (With French names, the de goes before the last name when the last name contains only one syllable. See de Maupassant, below.)
    Descartes, René
    Ford, Henry E. III
    Garcia Lorca, Federico (Use total surnames for Spanish names.)
    López y Quintana, María
    MacDonald, George
    Maupassant, Stud de
    M’Cauley, Josephine
    McCullers, Carson
    Morris, Robert
    Morris, William
    Morrison, Toni
    O’Keeffe, Georgia (Disregard the apostrophe.)
    Pepin, R. E.
    Pepin, Theophilus, Jr.
    Pepino, D.
    Rueda, Lope de (For Spanish names, de comes after the very first name)
    Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de
    San Marco, Josefina
    St. Denis, Ruth
    Von Braun, Werner (See Beethoven, above.)

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