Write it out or use numerals? Rules for Writers

Dear Miss Sexy Grammarian:

A writing question for you: is there an accepted convention (or a convention that you use) for writing out numbers versus using numerals? In my own writing, I think I tend to spell out numbers up to nineteen and use numerals for 20 and higher, but when I think about it, I don’t know if that is correct.



Dear Elsie,

What a pleasure to hear from you! This is a great question, and your solution is a fine one. Each style guide has its own “cut-off” for when to stop spelling out a number and start using numerals, so choosing a personal cut-off and using it consistently is really the best thing to do.

Consistency is always key with rules like this. Since we’re all likely to publish in many venues, we must learn the rules of the house where we’re aiming to publish. For instance, the APA Manual, which governs a lot of academic and scientific writing, only spells out numbers one through ten and uses numerals after that.

On your blog, I encourage you to develop and keep track of your own style guide. Some bloggers want to make sure they always post an image. Some bloggers want to be brief. Others value more romantic and flowery prose. These are all style considerations. As for numbers, if writing for Twitter, you might never spell out a number for space-saving purposes, but for the traditional publishing industry, you probably want to follow Chicago Manual style.

I do like Chicago Manual (CMS) as a default style guide. Here are their rules for numbers, which I generally use:

Spell out numbers one through one-hundred.

Hyphenate numbers such as twenty-one and ninety-nine.

Also spell out the above numbers when followed by hundred, thousand, million, etc, as in three million people.

If a number can be expressed in terms of hundreds instead of numerals, do so, as in, Write me fifteen hundred words about style guides.

If spelled-out numbers must cluster together in a sentence, make an exception, as in, I liked six of the dancers: numbers 4, 12, 18, and 36.

Use the same rules for ordinal numbers, as in, She is first place; he is 132nd place.



The Sexy G

Frequently, a client or online fan sends me a grammar question, and I always post answers here on the blog.  If you have a question, don’t hesitate to write to me. Looking for more attention? Get affordable, project-focused coaching in person or via Skype or email.

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