M4: Inserting Numbers into Text

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

  1. Understand general rules for using numbers in text.
  2. Recognize exceptions to the general rules for using numbers in text.

Writing numbers properly in text is rather simple as long as you are familiar with the general guidelines and the exceptions to those guidelines.

General Guidelines for Using Numbers in Text

APA style calls for writing out numbers from one to nine in words and using numerals for all other numbers. The Chicago Manual of Style calls for spelling out zero through one hundred as well as certain round multiples such as five thousand or six hundred. MLA style, however, requires that all numbers that are composed of one or two words be written out in words (e.g., one hundred, thirty-six, five million), and all numbers with more than two words be written in numerals (137; 6,482; 3,500,000). There are two general exceptions in MLA:

  1. If a number falls at the beginning of a sentence, it should be written out in words.
  2. If both large and small numbers are used within a single sentence or passage, all should be written as numerals in order to be consistent.

Exceptions to the General Guidelines for Using Numbers in Text

Exceptions to the general guidelines are logical, and they help avoid awkward situations. These exceptions are in place in all citation formats and style sheets.

Numerals with Abbreviations

In a situation where abbreviations are used, use numerals, not number words, with the abbreviations.

  • 6 in.
  • 25 cm
  • 125 lbs.
  • 4 mos.

Numerals for Time of Day

Within text, you can use either words or numbers to write the time of day. Within a document, be consistent in your choice.

  • 4:30 in the morning
  • four thirty in the morning
  • (but) 4:30 a.m.

Numerals in Dates

Use words to write months and numerals to write years. When the month, day, and year are all included, also use a numeral to write the day. If the year is not included, you can use either a numeral or a word to write the day. Express decades in numerals or words.

  • July 23, 1985
  • July 23 or July twenty-third
  • the sixties or the 1960s

Numerals in Sports’ Scores and Statistics

Use numerals to write sports’ scores and sports’ statistics.

  • The Bulls have a 34–6 record.
  • The score was 4 to 3.

Numerals Used Side by Side

To avoid confusion when using two numbers side by side, spell out one of the numbers and use a numeral for the other one. Generally, you should write out the number with fewer letters and leave the longer one as a numeral.

  • Two 20-page papers
  • 24 three-pound bags

Numerals in Addresses and Phone Numbers

Generally, you should use numerals in addresses and phone numbers. One exception is that, when a street is a numeral, you can either use the numeral or spell out the word.

  • 3545 N. Willow
  • Denver, CO 80202
  • Fifth Street or 5th Street
  • 210-555-7485

Numerals as Part of Proper Nouns

Numbers that are part of proper nouns should always be written as they appear.

  • Psychology 101
  • Room 222
  • 7-Up
  • Fifth Third Bank
  • Second City

Numerals as Divisions of Books and Documents

Use numerals to indicate page, volume, chapter, unit, and section numbers as well as other divisions that are used to organize written text.

  • Section 2, Chapter 4
  • page 8
  • Act 2, Scene 7
  • Volume 2, Unit 7, Item 12

Numerals in Decimals and Percentages

As a rule, numerals are used to express decimals and percentages.

  • 34.72
  • 75 percent

Numerals Used for Identification

Use numerals when writing identification numbers, such as the serial number for a computer, a driver’s license number, or a social security number.

  • Serial: 25485359243642
  • Driver’s license: 245Y823

Numerals in Money Amounts

When a money amount is briefly mentioned in a piece of writing that is not necessarily about money, spell the money amount out. However, if you are writing about money or are writing text that will reference money amounts on multiple occasions, use numerals and symbols.

  • Offhand reference: ten dollars
  • Repeated reference: $10 or $10.00

Punctuating Numerals

When writing numerals, use a decimal point to separate dollars and cents and use a comma to divide numbers of one thousand or more into units of three digits. Do not use these punctuation marks when writing numbers in words.

45,329

forty-five thousand three hundred twenty-nine

$12.43

twelve dollars and forty-three cents


Adapted from Chapter 19 “Mechanics” in Writer’s Handbook v 1.0 used according to Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

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