I got your number – 10 grammar tips for numbers.
LESLIE A. PANFIL
The rules of grammar and the nuances of impeccable writing styles are a complicated mix of seemingly contradictory rules. No wonder committing these outwardly confusing rules to memory feels like an exercise in futility. But, since we are frequently judged by our use or misuse of ‘proper’ grammar, it behooves one to attempt to master the finer points of writing.
Regardless of what I write or what is covered in the stacks of books on grammar found in the library, you will also want to refer to your company’s style book. And, if it has been a while since you have set foot in a composition class, you may want to brush up because some of the rules have changed.
At the beginning. As a general rule, I don’t like to start sentences with a number. But, if you must start a sentence with a number, no matter how large it may be, it should be spelled out. The one exception to this rule is when a sentence begins with a year. Example: 1996 was a good year for manufacturing sectors.
Hyphenate it. Use a hyphen (not a dash) between two dates and between two page numbers.
Example: Right: 2003 – 2004 Wrong: 2003-2004
The hyphen symbol can be found in most word processing programs under insert – symbol. Programs such as Microsoft Word will convert your dash to a hyphen when you add a space or hard return.
Figures vs. spelling. Use figures for numbers above nine. Spell out all numbers under 10.
Example: There were 35 members in attendance.
All but two of the members forgot their credentials.
Figures should be used for the following:
Sums of money
Time of day
Days of the month
Ordinal numbers. Figures should be used for ordinal numbers greater than ninth. Example: He was the master 26th person to cross the finish line. She won sixth place at the science fair.
Marking Time. Centuries and decades should be spelled out. Example: He was the most innovative man of the twentieth century. To write decades in incomplete numeral form, place the apostrophe before the missing digits. Right: That trend was popular in the ‘60s.
Huge Numbers. When you get into the millions and billions, you should simplify. Example: There are 20 million products still in use. This holds true for sums of money also. Example: The company is still $53 million dollars in debt. Use commas with numbers more than four or more figures. Example: There are 4,000 of these products still on the market.
More Simplicity. Use $5 rather than $5.00 and 1 p.m. in place of 1:00 p.m.
Roman numerals should only be used when they are part of a name or a title.
Example: Henry IV or World War II.
Clarity. For the sake of clarity avoid placing two numbers back-to-back in a sentence – Like in this example: There were 19 7th grade students in attendance.
Consistency. Numbers in a sentence are like tenses. You need to stay consistent through the sentence.
Right: Of the 20 students enrolled, only 4 had passing grades. – or –
Of the twenty students enrolled, only four had passing grades.
Since this is a rule that can go either way, it is a good idea to refer to you publisher’s style handbook.
Writing is a craft requiring a lifetime to master. In a day and age where everyone texts, tweets and posts writing riddled with errors it is easy to think no one is looking. But, believe me they are!
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