When Do I Spell Out Numbers?

when do i spell out numberQ: Sometimes I see numbers spelled out (nine) and at other times I see them in numeric form (9). Which is correct? When do I spell out numbers and when do I write them out? —Kevin T.

A: Most writers—including me—took on this artistic profession for three reasons: We’re creative, we love to read and, most important, we want to avoid numbers at all costs. Yet somehow, even in writing, numbers have found a way to sneak back into our lives.

There are several rules of thought on how to handle writing numbers, but the most common is pretty simple. Spell out numbers under 10 (zero through nine), and use the numeric symbols for numbers 10 and up. I bought eight candy bars from the vending machineI average eating 29 candy bars per month.

There are some exceptions to the rule. For example, 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. And, 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.

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”), dates (February 14), monetary amounts ($8), percentages (14 percent) and ratios (2-to-1).

Again, this is a style issue and other sources may suggest different ways of handling numbers. So please, no hate mail. And let’s agree not to talk about numbers for the rest of the day—they make my head hurt.

X3961_GrammarDesk.jpgCheck out these Grammar Rules to help you write better:
Sneaked vs. Snuck
Who vs. Whom
Lay vs. Lie vs. Laid 
Which vs. That
Since vs. Because
Ensure vs. Insure
Home in vs. Hone in
Leaped vs. Leapt

Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.

brian-klems-2013


Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
Sign up for Brian’s free Writer’s Digest eNewsletter: WD Newsletter
Listen to Brian on: The Writer’s Market Podcast

You might also like:

7 thoughts on “When Do I Spell Out Numbers?

  1. feelnlucky3@aol.com

    My comment is to make sure your e-mail title uses good grammar. The title on your e-mail reads, “When Should You Writing Out Numbers (& Other Writing Tips)”. Something just does not sound right.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      WD and AP. There are different variations from different stylebooks, but this gives writers a good guide to follow. They key is consistency. If a book publisher uses a different style, they will make the changes.

      Brian
      Online Editor

  2. Eileen

    One-erful, 1-erful! Lots of good info – I learned a alot. Especially about handling calendar years and ages, which I’ve been doing wrong. (Fortunatatly the *numb-er police* haven’t jailed me just yet. ) EE

COMMENT