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
  • monetary amounts ($8) NOT NECESSARILY; WHAT ABOUT FOURTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS? SPELL IT OUT – 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

  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

    • 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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