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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International bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 17 titles published in over a dozen languages. From Romance in Poggibonsi to action and adventure in the sci-fi thriller The Navigators, to comedies like Night Of The Colonoscopy: A Horror Story (Sort Of) and the heartwarming and humorous anecdotes about parenting in the popular Savvy Stories series, his knack for surprising audiences and making you laugh or cry - or hang onto the edge of your seat - has been enjoyed by audiences around the world. And you are guaranteed to get a page turner every time. “That’s my style,” Dan says. “Grab you on page one and then send you on a roller coaster ride, regardless of the story or genre.” Readers agree, making his string of #1 bestsellers popular across the globe. He will make you chuckle or shed tears, sometimes on the same page. His novels always contain twists and turns, and his nonfiction will stay in your heart forever. Dan resides in the Tampa area with his wife and daughter. You can find him blogging away almost every day on www.DanAlatorre or watch his hilarious YouTube show every week Writers Off Task With Friends. Dan’s marketing book 25 eBook Marketing Tips You Wish You Knew has been a valuable tool for new authors (it’s free if you subscribe to his newsletter) and his dedication to helping other authors is evident in his helpful blog.

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.

  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?

    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!

  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?

  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.

    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!

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