A Guide to Writing Out Numbers in Words in English
Asides for a few standard guidelines, spelling out numbers rather than using numerals is largely a matter of personal preference. The key is to remember to be consistent. Ie: Don’t spell out numbers half of the time and use figures the other half, it becomes confusing for anyone who might be reading your work.
When it comes to deciding whether or not to write numerical numbers or to write numbers in words, there are a few schools of thought, although none are considered to be concrete or ‘written in stone.’ For example, the APA stylebook recommends the numbers zero through nine be spelled out and that all numbers after nine be written numerically from ten through one million. Here are a few examples of how you might write out numbers exceeding 999,999: 2 million, 25 million, 30,123,321 or 3.8 billion.
The Chicago Manual of Style, on the other hand, suggests that writers spell out number zero through one hundred and use numerals after that point – the exception being whenever whole numbers in combination with hundred, thousand, hundred thousand, million, billion etc. are present. Here are a few examples: seven thousand, eight hundred, thirty million or 801, 2,507 and 32,456,098.
The topic of writing numbers in English can be a complex one, and as we discussed early, there are multiple view points on what is correct and what is ‘passable’, there are several exceptions and really no consistency amongst written work found in blogs, books, newspapers, and magazines.
In the section below, we will go over a few of the ‘common rules’ that the general population of writers agree on.
Putting Numbers in Words
We learned earlier that there really are no black and white rules when it comes to deciding whether or not to write out numbers numerically or to spell them out phonetically. In fact, it is all really a matter of personal preference. That being said, however, there are a few ‘habits’ that the majority of those who write in English have adopted, they are:
- Always spell out any number that occurs at the begging of a sentence.
For example, Seventeen high school students won the community service award.
Nineteen Eighty-three was the year he was born.
Note: If you are following AP guidelines, years are never spelled out. Example: 1983 was the year he was born.
- Hyphenate every compound number from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
For example, Twenty-one kids in my class went on the school trip.
- Hyphenate all factions that are written out.
For example, I ran one-quarter of the way home.
- If there are more than four digits, always use commas.
For example, 1,017 books
- There is no need to use a decimal or a dollar sign when writing our sums that are less than one dollar.
For example, he had twenty-five cents in his pocket.
- Do not include the word ‘dollar’ is there is a dollar sign.
For example, I was paid $650 for one week of work.
- To simplify things, use noon and midnight instead of 12:00 AM or 12:00 PM
Note: AM and PM can also be written as A.M. and P.M. or a.m. and p.m. or am and pm.
- It is acceptable to use numerals for the time of day.
For example, we will eat dinner at 6:00 PM.
- Mixed fractions are always written out numerically unless they are at the start of a sentence.
For example, We anticipate a 4 1/5 percent increase in cost.
- Always use the simplest way to express large numbers.
For example, it is easier to write twenty-five hundred than it would be two thousand five hundred.
- When using decimals, add a zero in front of the decimal point to make prevent confusion.
For example, the price of gas rose 0.48 percent last year.
- Whenever you are writing out a number that has three or more digits, there is no need to write the word and. However, you should use the word andto indicate or express decimal points.
For example, Five hundred thirty-four dollars and forty-two cents.
- When writing out numbers over 999, you do not need to use a comma.
For example, two thousand four hundred and two.
- This is how you would typically use numerals to indicate or express a date.
The 25th of September, 1982.
April 3, 2001
- When decades are spelled out, they are not capitalized.
For example, he was a child of the seventies and raised in the eighties.
- Whenever you express decades using numerals, it is easier to add an apostrophe at the start of the number and not before the s.
For example, during the ’70s more women entered the workforce.
You will also find that it is also considered to be acceptable to place the apostrophe before the s instead of before the number. For example, during the 70’s more women entered the workforce.
Writing Numbers in Different Citation Styles
As a general rule of thumb, the majority of people choose to spell out numbers phonetically if they can be expressed in two or less words and will write the number out using numerals for numbers that are longer than three words. The exception to this comes from those following a specific citation style (MLA or APA, for examples) in these instances, you would follow the formatting guidelines outlined in the style book.
Here are a few to help you:
- Using APA Style for Writing Out Numbers: http://academiccoachingandwriting.org/academic-writing/academic-writing-blog/ii-using-apa-style-in-academic-writing-words-or-numerals
- Using MLA Style for Writing Out Numbers: http://www.mlanet.org/page/mla-style-manual-numbers-and-dates
- Using AP Style for Writing Out Numbers: http://writingexplained.org/ap-style/ap-style-numbers
- Using Chicago Style for Writing Out Numbers: http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/qanda/data/faq/topics/Numbers.html
When to Spell out Numbers
As we learned earlier, there really is no ‘must follow rule’ when it comes to spelling out numbers phonetically, however, best practices would tell us that it is advisable to write out numbers in words when they are:
- between zero and nine. (Example, one – two – three – four – five – six – seven – eight – nine)
- come after one million. (Example, two million – two million forty-five thousand)
- found at the start of a sentence. (Example, Nineteen forty-seven was the year he was born)
How to Spell Numbers Properly
Most prefer to spell out numbers phonetically only until number nine and after one million. What if this wasn’t the case? What if you had to spell out numbers all of the time? If that were the case, and you were choosing to write out the numbers one to one hundred five (105), it would look like this:
- one hundred
- one hundred one
- one hundred two
- one hundred three
- one hundred four
- one hundred five
Writing Numbers Numerically
Similar to the example above, here is what the number 1 through 105 look like when written out numerically.
Ways of Spelling out the Date
Another area where people struggle is determining the best (or most commonly accepted) way to write out dates and years. There are multiple reasons for this; first, the format that people use when writing out the date varies from country to country. Second, people struggle with comma placement when it comes to writing the date.
Grammarly.com has an excellent blog article on how to best write the date. It covers topics like:
- How to Write the Year,
- How to Write the Month and Day,
- How to Write Dates with Days of the Week,
- How to Write Centuries,
- How to Write Decades,
- Writing Dates as Numerals
Here are a few examples of how you might write the date:
- August 1, 1999
- August 30, 1999
- January 18, 2011
- the 30thof August, 1999
- the ‘80s
- Monday, July 30, 2018
- Tuesday, July 31, 2018
- Wednesday, August 1, 2018
- Thursday, August 2, 2018
- two thousand eighteen
- nineteen nighty-four
- The eighties
Writing out Money
There are a few things that you can do to express monetary value or cost. Here are some examples:
- The apple cost sixty-two cents.
- The apple cost $0.62
- One dollar fifty cents
- One hundred dollars five cents
- two and ¼ dollars
- thirty-two cents
Remember, unless you are following a specific style guide (MLA or APA number for example) there really are no ‘must follow’ rules when it comes to writing out numbers, years, dates, etc. The most important thing is to maintain consistency throughout your writing. Avoid switching from one format to the next, without having a valid reason for doing so as this will only confuse anyone who happens to be reading your work and also diminishes the quality of your paper.
If you need further information on how to write out numbers either phonetically or numerically, here are a few links to help: