Numbers–Words Or Figures?

A quick post this week about numbers. Here are a few rules:

  • Generally, spell out numbers one through ten and use figures for numbers over ten.
    • We had three printers on my floor.
    • There were 14 secretaries in the firm.
  • When you have numbers both below ten and above ten, use figures for all of them.
    • There were 4 paralegals working with the 20 associates.
  • You can use figures for numbers one through ten when you want to make sure there is quick comprehension.
    • Lines 1 through 3 on page 8 of the deposition should be highlighted.
    • Candidate number 3 would be the best fit.
  • Figures should always be used for statistical material, i.e., clock time, money, sports scores, academic grades, percentages, etc.
    • The gum was on sale for $1 per pack.
    • The Patriots won 4-2.
  • Use words for fractions and nontechnicalornonemphatic references to age, periods of time, and measurements.
    • My granddaughter just turned seven years old.
    • The cost for the apartment was one-half of her monthly salary.
  • Numbers in millions or higher should be the figure and the word representing the designation.
    • There were at least 20 million people in the stadium.

These are the simple rules regarding numbers. If you have other questions about numbers or questions about other proofreading topics, please let me know at [email protected].

3,483 People Say . . . Three Thousand Four Hundred . . . Starting a Sentence With a Number is Incorrect Say Several Thousand People

A friend recently sent me an article in a recent ABA Journal where a paragraph began with a quotation, which started with a number:
My initial instinct was “There is no way that is correct.” My next thought was “Well, it IS a quotation.” My research indicates, however, that in most cases it is incorrect.
Most sources suggest that if you are going to start a sentence with a number, you spell the number out. However, a reader may lose interest by the time they get to the message if the number is too long. It is better to reword the sentence. For example:
  •  Twelve thousand four hundred and eight-two people are expected to post something on Facebook in the next half hour.
would be better stated:
  • In the next half hour, 12,482 people are expected to post something on Facebook.
Note that the number in the examples above is completely fabricated.
It appears that most style guides and grammar experts suggest never beginning a sentence with a number (although some say you can use a number when you start a sentence with a year—most still disagree). It is better practice just to avoid starting sentences with numbers altogether. In our example from the ABA Journal, it might have been better stated:
Karen A. Overstreet, a judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, stated that “23,000 people in western Washington declared bankruptcy last year, and I’ve encountered a lot of bankruptcy debtors who have large amounts of student loans.”
It isn’t difficult to make things work so they are generally grammatically correct. It shows that you care about your writing so that people like me (and there are LOTS of us out there) who tend to read with a more “discerning” eye will appreciate your effort to make your work more readable.