Business Writing

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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

July 25, 2016

For Adjacent Numbers--Figures, Words, or Both?

Which is correct: two 2-room apartments, 2 two-room apartments, 2 2-room apartments, or two two-room apartments? 

In business writing classes, people often ask whether to use words or figures for adjacent numbers like those. What do you think?

Here's advice from The Gregg Reference Manual (Gregg):

When two numbers come together and one is part of a compound modifier, express one of the numbers in figures and the other in words. As a rule, spell out the first number unless the second number would make a significantly shorter word. 

The Microsoft Manual of Style says it this way:

When two numbers that refer to separate categories must appear together, spell out one of them. Example: ten 12-page booklets. 

Applying that advice, which is correct in the apartment example above? 

The best choice is "two 2-room apartments"; "2 two-room apartments" is possible but not preferred according to Gregg. We know that "2 2-room" and "two two-room" don't work. 

Test yourself on the examples below. Which ones are correct? Then scroll down to compare your answers with mine. 

sixty $10 bills

2 thirty-page manuals

three four-column tables 

500 4-color brochures 

five $50 gift certificates 

100 two-euro coins 

five one-room studios

three 12-story buildings 

twelve 3-story buildings

six 4-volume sets 

 

How many seem correct to you? I followed The Gregg Reference Manual rule and picked six of them. Check yours again before comparing your answers with mine. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sixty $10 bills
Correct. Spelling out the first word makes sense. Even though the word sixty is slightly longer than the word ten, the number 10 applies to currency, which is typically rendered in figures. The expression "60 ten dollar bills" would work, but it looks less crisp and businesslike.

2 thirty-page manuals
Wrong. This version is correct: two 30-page manuals. 

three four-column tables
Wrong. One of the words should be spelled out, preferably the first one: three 4-column tables. 

500 4-color brochures
Wrong. One of the words should be spelled out: 500 four-color brochures. 

five $50 gift certificates
Correct. Spelling out the first word follows Gregg's rule. 

100 two-euro coins
Correct. This version also seems fine: one hundred €2 coins. 

five one-room studios
Wrong. One number should be spelled out, preferably the first one: five 1-room studios. 

three 12-story buildings
Correct. It follows Gregg. 

twelve 3-story buildings
Correct. It has the first word spelled out, following Gregg's rule. However, I would prefer "12 three-story buildings" because it follows typical number renderings, with the large number in figures. 

six 4-volume sets
Correct. It follows Gregg

Do you agree with my decisions? Let me know how your answers differ and why. 

If other number rules make your head spin, let me know. I'll try to clear them up for you. 

Lynn
Syntax Training

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