When To Spell Out Numbers

Taken, paraphrased and bastardized from the article “When Do I Spell Out Numbers?” dated February 13, 2017, by Brian A. Klems 

The most common “rules of thought” on how to handle writing numbers are pretty simple:

  • Spell out numbers under 10 (zero through nine)
  • use the numeric symbols for numbers 10 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.

  • 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 wife.


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 wife in the magical year of 1997.


(Dan says: I DON’T 100% AGREE HERE): “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”) NO – Dan
  • dates (February 14) YES – Dan
  • percentages (14 percent) YES – Dan
  • and ratios (2-to-1) YES – Dan



What are YOUR thoughts? Is this about right?

Can you think of exceptions?

TELL ME and I’ll add them join so we have a good, comprehensive reference.


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16 thoughts on “When To Spell Out Numbers

  1. This is probably a slim occurrence exception but…in my spy novel I have a character who is counting to herself in all the languages she knows to kill time. And I spell out 41, 42, 43 as she gets to her destination in words in German.
    So my exception would be: if the way a number is said matters, you should write it out.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I have discussed this with other authors and someone said she spells most numbers out (including years) because, for e-books, if text to speech is enabled it helps the ‘robot reader’. So if you write 1976, for example, the robot would pronounce it differently. I can’t remember whether it would say ‘one, nine, seven, six’ or ‘ one thousand, nine hundred and seventy six’. Anyway, has anyone heard of this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No doubt – although CMOS isn’t always right. It’s supposed to be, but it isn’t always. Sometimes its answers are just what I like to call correct but wrong. They may be technically accurate but nobody does it that way and my readers won’t understand it in its correct form… And mostly it just looks wrong to me so I say screw it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. AP and Chicago differ–one says spell out up to 100. Also, the preference among publishers seems to vary between magazines/online versus books. Yes, it will drive you crazy if you’re going traditional. But if you’re self-publishing, who cares?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know if this is technically an exception, but I sometimes spell out numbers if they’re in dialogue. For some reason, it doesn’t look write to me to have a character saying a numeral. I hate rules anyway. I do think it’s important to know the rules, though, so you can break them the right way. You just don’t want to trip up your readers.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. When we were going over some numbers, we had one that was like $95,000 car, 500-year-old building, and my default position is this: I do talk to text and whatever it says to do, I start with that.

      Rather, I go to that second because I pretty much use numbers instead of spelling them out first because I’m lazy!

      Liked by 1 person

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