There can be some confusion when it comes to writing numbers in English. Knowing that there are set rules that you can follow can make it much easier. For example, in academic texts, it is common to write numbers 1 – 11 in letters rather than figures, for example, one, two, three, four and so on. Numbers greater than eleven are usually written as figures – 12, 13, 14 and so forth.
So, let’s look at some of the other rules.
You should always write decimals in figures, placing a zero in front of the decimal point unless the decimal itself starts with a zero:
The grass grew 0.58 of a foot in six months. Or:
The grass grew 0.58 feet in six months.
The grass grew only .05 of a foot in six months because of lack of rain. Or:
The grass grew only .05 feet in six months because of lack of rain.
You need to spell out simple fractions as well as use hyphens. Let’s look at some examples:
One-third of the apples are rotten.
One-half of the books are dusty.
When it comes to mixed fractions, you must use figures unless it is the first word of a sentence:
The current interest rate on my bank savings account is 3 ½ percent.
Three and one-half percent is the highest rate the bank will currently offer.
You can, of course, also write: “The current interest rate is 3.5 percent” as well as “Three and a half percent”.
All compound numbers should be hyphenated, from twenty-one all the way through to ninety-nine:
Seventy-two people signed up for the timeshare deal.
When you write out amounts of money on a cheque, you must replace the decimal point with “and”:
Twenty-two pounds and fifty-five pence.
It is best to write out large numbers as simply as possible, to avoid confusion. Be mindful about consistency too, so that the numbers are written in the same format:
She earns around one million to two million pounds every year.
She earns around £1,000,000 to £2,000,000 every year.
It is incorrect to write:
She earns around one million to £2,000,000 every year. Or:
She earns around £1 million to two million every year.
When you are writing ages, remember it is considered correct to write the number out in full if someone is aged from one to eleven. From twelve (12) onwards it is best to use figures, unless the age is at the start of the sentence:
Thirteen-year-old Tracey won first prize at the ballet competition on Saturday.
Note here that hyphens are used to link the words together – this is done when the age, which is used as an adjective (a word or set of words that describes a noun), is placed in front of the noun. When it is placed after the noun, you do not use hyphens:
Tracey is 13 years old.
You will notice that “13” is not written as “thirteen”. However, if you prefer to write higher numbers in letters, make sure you are consistent throughout your text.
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