7 rules for writing numbers and numerals in English

Knowing how to express numbers in your writing can be confusing. Do you write ‘10’ or ‘ten’, for instance, and is it ‘1st’ or ‘first’?

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1. Number or numeral

First things first – a number is an abstract concept, a numeral is the symbol you use to express that concept. You could compare it to the difference between a person and that person’s name. Here are some examples:

  • What’s your house number?
  • Does your clock have Arabic or Roman numerals?

2. Spell out numbers under 10

Always spell out numbers smaller than ten, except in headlines.

  • We are expecting to receive five orders.
  • “5 orders expected”

3. Put the commas and points in the right places

  • The area of Germany is 357,021 sq km, or 137,847 sq miles.
  • Earlier this year Ford recalled 1.2 million pickup trucks.

Note these important differences:
German: $1.000,50 / 1,2 Millionen
English: $1,000.50 / 1.2 million

4. Don’t start a sentence with a numeral

Don’t write:4000 copies of her book were sold.
Do write:There were 4000 copies of her book sold.

5. Spell out centuries, decades and ordinal numbers

Don’t write: In the 1st decade of the 21st century
Do write:In the first decade of the twenty-first century

6. If the number is rounded or estimated, spell it out

Rounded numbers over a million are written as a numeral plus a word.

  • Over 300 million people worldwide use Facebook.

7. Don’t write two numerals next to each other

If you write 12 12-year-old boys it looks confusing. Instead, write twelve 12-year-old boys.

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