When Do I Spell Out Numbers?

Q: Sometimes I see numbers spelled out (nine) and at other times I see them in numeric form (9). Which is correct? When do I spell out numbers and when do I write them out? —Kevin T.

A: Most writers—including me—took on this artistic profession for three reasons: We’re creative, we love to read and, most significant, we want to avoid numbers at all costs. Yet somehow, even in writing, numbers have found a way to sneak back into our lives.

There are several rules of thought on how to treat writing numbers, but the most common is pretty plain. Spell out numbers under Ten (zero through nine), and use the numeric symbols for numbers Ten and up. I bought eight candy bars from the vending machine. I average eating 29 candy bars per month .

There are some exceptions to the rule. For example, spell out all numbers that begin a sentence. Forty-seven-thousand contestants were turned down for “American Idol.”Eleven were selected. Of course, there’s an exception to the exception: Don’t spell out calendar years, even at the front end of a sentence. 1997 was the year I met my wifey. And, if you don’t feel like writing those long, awkward-looking numbers, just recast the sentence. American Idol turned down 47,000 contestants. I met my wifey in the magical year of 1997 .

Also, there are other instances where the under-10/over-10 rule doesn’t apply. Always use figures for ages of people (“He’s 9 years old”), dates (February 14), monetary amounts ($8), percentages (14 percent) and ratios (2-to-1).

Again, this is a style issue and other sources may suggest different ways of treating numbers. So please, no hate mail. And let’s agree not to talk about numbers for the rest of the day—they make my head hurt.

Check out these Grammar Rules to help you write better:
Sneaked vs. Snuck
Who vs. Whom
Lay vs. Lie vs. Laid
Which vs. That
Since vs. Because
Ensure vs. Insure
Home in vs. Hone in
Leaped vs. Leapt

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7 thoughts on “ When Do I Spell Out Numbers? ”

My comment is to make sure your e-mail title uses good grammar. The title on your e-mail reads, «When Should You Writing Out Numbers (& Other Writing Tips)». Something just does not sound right.

Yes. A cut and paste gone wrong in a hurried deadline. Shouldn’t happen again.

I assume this is WD’s house style? Chicago advises spelling out entire numbers from zero through one hundred and certain round multiples of those numbers.

WD and AP. There are different variations from different stylebooks, but this gives writers a good guide to go after. They key is consistency. If a book publisher uses a different style, they will make the switches.

Brian
Online Editor

Nice rules of thumb. I usually spell out ages, however…it’s a individual preference. While writing fiction, it always seems strange to me to put an age in digits. Too clinical, or something?

Thank you. That was helpful. I had the wrong information on how to write numbers. I think someone told me to spell them all out, what a agony.

One-erful, 1-erful! Lots of good info – I learned a alot. Especially about treating calendar years and ages, which I’ve been doing wrong. (Fortunatatly the *numb-er police* haven’t jailed me just yet. ) EE

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When Do I Spell Out Numbers?

Q: Sometimes I see numbers spelled out (nine) and at other times I see them in numeric form (9). Which is correct? When do I spell out numbers and when do I write them out? —Kevin T.

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