Writing Numbers

A couple people have asked me recently about when to use figures for numbers (e.g. “25”) and when to spell them out (e.g. “six”).

One guideline is to spell out numbers one through nine and use figures for 10 or more. Another (the one I prefer) is to spell out numbers if they can be written as one or two words; otherwise, use figures. There are, however, exceptions to both rules:

  • If a sentence begins with a number, either spell it out or rewrite the sentence with the number in a different position.
  • Use figures for dates, addresses, percentages, fractions, decimals, scores, statistics, exact amounts of money, and the time.

Style guides disagree about whether you should maintain consistency within a sentence. Also, as Lunsford and Connors wisely note in The New St. Martin’s Handbook, “Conventions for expressing numbers vary from field to field, and you will want to make sure you understand the conventions of your own field—and follow them closely.”


  • Capital Community College
  • A Writer’s Reference, Fifth Edition, by Diana Hacker
  • The New St. Martin’s Handbook by Andrea Lunsford and Robert Connors
  • The Associated Press Stylebook
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8 Responses to Writing Numbers

  1. Anna Edlin says:

    If you are writing a business letter to Mr. John Smith Jr. and Mrs. Jane Smith, they are married how should it read: Mr. John and Mrs. Jane Smith Jr., or Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Smith Jr., or Mr. and Mrs. John Jr. and Jane Smith or should we just use the more traditional Mr. and Mrs. John Smith Jr.
    We really want to include both names in the letter.

  2. Al says:

    Example: “The document dated September 23, 2006 was rejected due to lack of a comma.”
    Question: Should there be a comma after 2006, or not, when the date is buried in a sentence.

  3. Karl says:

    Hi Al,
    Yes, there should be a comma after “2006.” We treat the year of that particular date format as an appositive, similar to the way we treat a person’s credentials after his or her name and the way we treat a state that follows a city:Mary Fredericks, PhD, won the presigious award for her work on crime prevention strategies.The best coffee house in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is Four Friends

  4. Hasanain says:

    I have a Question
    Which one should i pick… Please help me.
    1. 29% to 30% of people should..
    2. Twenty-nine percent – 30% of people should
    Should i start the sentence with something else

    Thank you

  5. I would try to recast the sentence so that it started with something else. If I absolutely had to lead with the one of them, I would go with the second option, except I would use “to” between “Twenty-nine percent” and “30%” instead of the hyphen.

  6. myra says:

    Is it necessary to include the actual number in parenthesis after a written number? For example…
    Should the sentence be “Eight (8) of the fifteen (15) survey respondents…” or “Eight of fifteen survey respondents….”

  7. Karl says:

    Hasanain, I’ve changed my mind a bit about your sentence. I would write either “Twenty-nine to 30 percent of people should…” or “Twenty-nine to thirty percent of people should…” I prefer the second.
    Myra, unless you’re writing a legal document or the style guide of your firm or field demands it, you don’t need to put the numeral in parentheses.

  8. paula grzybowski says:

    I’d like to know if you should use a hiphen when you wirte numbers like thirty-three