Numbers Or Letters In Essays

Numbers do not only show up in math assignments, but also in everyday writing. Like most things in the English language, there are rules for writing numbers. Yes, imagine that! There are certain numbers that we spell out in letters, while there are others that we only write in numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.). You have probably come across more than your fair share of ‘Top 10’ lists. Why is it not ‘Top Ten’ list? Keep reading to find out.

Numbers that Are Spelled Out

Please note that there are some exceptions to the rules outlined below. As with other grammar rules, rules for writing numbers change according to certain style guides (i.e. Chicago Manual of Style, AP, MLA, etc.). However, here are some general rules for spelling out numbers.

Numbers Under 10:

  • Martin has two younger sisters and five older brothers. Note: Some style guides recommend spelling out the numbers one to one hundred.

Numbers at the Beginning of a Sentence: 

  • Sixty children came to the class trip last year, but this year there were 80.

Fractions (usually hyphenated):

  • About one-third of the class comes from China. Note: However, the exception to this rule is when it is a mixed fraction. We then use numerals (unless it comes at the beginning of a sentence). Example: The recipe calls for cups of nuts.

Numbers that Require Numerals

Numbers 10 and Above:

  • She has bought about 12 pairs of shoes and 15 dresses in the last three months. Note: When numbers are in a list it is best to keep all the numbers in the list consistent, even if numbers are under 10.
  • Correct: She has four brothers aged 5, 7 12, and 15.

Incorrect: She has four brothers aged seven, nine, 12, and 15.

Dates and Years:

  • School begins on August 27, 2009. Note: We do not use ordinal numbers (i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd with full dates).
  • Correct: The play is on March 23, 2010.

Incorrect: April 1st, 2001.

Percentages:

  • According to the latest survey 52% of teachers live in the city. Note: If a percentage begins a sentence, it should be spelled out. Example: Fifty and one-half percent of students walk to school.

Decimals:

  • There was 0.73 inches of rain last month.

More than One Rule

The following are special cases and are often written in multiple ways.

Decades:

  1. She lived in San Francisco in the eighties.
  2. During the 1980s she lived in San Francisco.
  3. She lived in San Francisco in the ‘80s.

Time:

We usually spell out the time when it is followed by o'clock or when a.m. or p.m. is not mentioned. However, we use numerals when we need to emphasize the exact time and when using A.M. and P.M.

Correct: We have to get up at six o'clock to be on time for school.
Correct: She gets home around eight in the evening.
Incorrect: We have to get up at 6 o'clock to be on time for school.
The accident happened at 8:22 p.m. last night.
They did not leave the party until 2 a.m.

We usually spell out noon and midnight instead of writing 12:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m.

  • Example: We came home around midnight and slept until noon the next day.

Large Whole/Round Numbers:

If there are only a few words, we often spell out.

Examples:

  • He earned two million dollars last year. or He earned $2 million last year.
  • Can you loan me twenty dollars?

For larger numbers we write in numeral form ($5, 385, 673)

Final Note

When in doubt about whether to spell out or write numbers, it is usually best to spell out the numerals.

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Rules for Writing Numbers

By YourDictionary

Numbers do not only show up in math assignments, but also in everyday writing. Like most things in the English language, there are rules for writing numbers. Yes, imagine that! There are certain numbers that we spell out in letters, while there are others that we only write in numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.). You have probably come across more than your fair share of ‘Top 10’ lists. Why is it not ‘Top Ten’ list? Keep reading to find out.

Even experienced writers find it tricky to decide how to handle numbers within the body of their dissertation. To make matters worse, many style guides use very different formats. What is a student to do?


This article provides tips that will help you handle this issue within your writing. These tips are based on the APA guidelines related to numbers.

The basic rules

Numbers can be written either as words (e.g., one hundred) or numerals (e.g., 100). The basic rule is to use words for numbers from zero through nine, and then numbers from 10 onwards. This is true for both cardinal numbers (e.g., two, 11) and ordinal numbers (e.g., second, 11th). However, there are some exceptions:

  • Use numerals for numbers from zero to nine that are followed by a precise unit of measurement or grouped together with a number that is ≥ 10.
    Examples:

    The samples measured 7 cm in diameter. (“cm” is a unit of measurement)

    However, only 3 of the 12 were usable. (“3” is being grouped with “12”)

    But: These three samples were subjected to further testing.

  • Use words for any number that is used to start a sentence, with the exception of years.
    Examples:

    Seventy-two thousand ink cartridges are sold every day.

    Nineteenth-century novels often feature complicated plot lines.

    But:2008 saw record olive crops throughout the Mediterranean.

  • Use words for common fractions and set expressions.
    Examples:

    According to the survey, one half of the employees are dissatisfied.

    Understanding the Five Pillars of Islam is a critical first step.

    The Fourth of July is traditionally marked by a firework display.

Writing percentages

With percentages, the standard is to use numerals and “%” (not “percent”).

Example:

According to the report, 45% of the workforce is employed in the service sector. Only 6% currently work in agriculture.

The main exception is if you are using a percentage to begin a sentence. In this case, use words to express the entire percentage.

Example:

Thirteen percent of the patients reported that their symptoms improved after taking the experimental drug.

Reporting results that include numbers

If your dissertation includes quantitative research, you probably have data to report. Statistics, mathematical functions, ratios, and percentages are all written using numerals. This is true regardless if they are included within a table or as part of the actual text. Keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Report most statistics to two decimal places (such as M = 5.44).
  • Report statistics that could never exceed 1.0 to three decimal places (such as p < .001).
  • Report percentages and degrees of freedom as whole numbers (such as 73%).
  • Italicize values that are not Greek letters (such as M, SD, p, and F).
  • Include spaces before and after =, >, and <.
Examples:

The average IQ of the participants was relatively high (M = 137.33, SD = 4.54).

The results of the second test were statistically significant, t(12) = 4.11, p < .05.

Writing numbers that are accompanied by measurements

If a number comes immediately before a unit of measurement, use numerals.

Examples:

Each patient received a 5-mg dosage of the experimental drug.

The tallest participant was 2.03 m.

Also use numerals for precise ages, times, dates, scores, points on a scale, and amounts of money.

Examples:

The final score of Ghana 2, Brazil 1 did not represent a decisive victory.

Children under 8 years receive a $50 discount.

But: Most girls start reading when they are about five years old. (“about” makes the number imprecise)

Writing long numbers

Longer numbers follow specific rules:

  • Use a period to indicate a decimal point.
  • Starting with 1,000, use commas to separate every three digits.
  • Starting with a million, use a combination of numerals and words.
    Examples:

    The region has an average of 43.75 doctors for every 10,000 people.

    Some predict that the number of users will reach 2 billion by 2020.

Consistency may not be obvious

One of the main reasons why writing numbers is complicated is that consistently applying the rules may lead to a text that actually seems very inconsistent. Consider the following paragraphs:

Examples:

At about the age of seven, the girl’s height was 1.47 m. This placed her in the fifth percentile, although her weight placed her in the top 7% of her class. By the time she was 9 years old, she was taller than half of the boys in her year. Five years later, she was still ranked 15th.

Thirteen thousand viewers watched the performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night from the park, while another 2,000 watched from the surrounding buildings and 1.2 million watched it on television. As 1 out of every 11 residents saw at least part of the play, this one event can definitely be considered a success.

These texts may look awkward because so many different number formats have been used, but don’t be deceived – the above guidelines have all been followed.

If you are not required to strictly follow a particular style (such as APA), you may have some flexibility to modify the guidelines presented in this article. Just be sure to apply any modifications you make throughout your entire document.

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