This week my 11-year-old daughter had an assignment on writing numbers. One of the rules on her assignment sheet stated, "Numbers that are expressed in fewer than four words are spelled out."
That rule sounded like trouble to me. After all, do we really want to write seventeen thousand sixty? I would much prefer 17,060, but the sixth graders’ rule seemed to demand the spelled-out version.
Some of us need to coach our children in writing well; the rest of us need to write better on the job. Those are two good reasons for reviewing the basic rules of how to render numbers–in words or figures.
The following rules agree with The Gregg Reference Manual, Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, and The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook.
1. When a number begins a sentence, spell it out.
Seventeen people called to report the accident.
2. Generally, spell out numbers from 1 to 9; use figures for 10 and above. Note: The Gregg Reference Manual spells out numbers from 1 to 10.
The 11 participants could not be grouped in pairs, trios, or quads.
The seven participants broke into two groups of three and four.
3. Use figures (even when the numbers are less than 10) for numbers of technical significance: percentages, pages, sizes, money, measurements, clock time, coordinates, etc.
See page 6 for the explanation.
Since 2004, turnover has been approximately 9 percent.
Tickets for the 2 p.m. webcast are almost sold out.
4. For dates, use figures and cardinal (1, 2, 3)–not ordinal (1st, 2nd, 3rd) numbers.
The March 17 meeting has been rescheduled.
On April 4, 2001, we opened this branch office.
5. When numbers apply to the same thing, render them the same way.
These three conference rooms hold groups of up to 8, 16, and 24 people. [not eight]
Sometimes a number needs to stand out, even when it is less than 10. For example, in resumes our years of experience should catch the reader’s eye.
. . . including 7 years as a program manager
That’s the reason the numbers in my second rule above are in figures (numbers from 1 to 9)–so they stand out.
I’m guessing that my daughter’s assignment included unusual number rules and examples because the textbook the teacher is using is simply out of date. Everyone should have current reference books. How about you?
If you’ve been surfing the Internet for rules on numbers, grammar, punctuation, and usage, why not invest in a new style manual that will answer virtually all your questions? To choose one that matches the work you do, check out my Recommended Books.
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