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Got Your Number

by Cherie Tucker

July 2017

 

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It’s summer, so are a few easy-to-remember rules:

Spell out ALL numbers from 1 to 10 when writing and there is no need to quickly comprehend them. I tried on one of those hats, but it was too big.

My car seats only two.

They have three of the cutest children ever.

 

For numbers greater than 10, use figures.

They had 25 people for dinner in their tiny dining room.

He’s certainly older than 40, my dear.

It was almost 20 feet from us before we saw it!

 

If you are comparing numbers above and below 10, use figures for all.

He has 11 goats, 20 hens, but only 2 horses.

 

Obviously, figures are used when writing dates or statistics or in technical writing. Consult your project style for particulars.

Of course there are exceptions. This is English, after all. For example, you can spell out numbers larger than 10 to make a point.

I have told you a thousand times how to do that.

Twenty! They have TWENTY dogs?

 

UNBREAKABLE RULE: The first word of a sentence must be spelled out. If the first word is a number, any number, it must be spelled out. Consequently, it is worth remembering not to start a sentence with a date. Rearrange it so the first word is an actual word. You don’t want to put 1492 into words!

 

NO: 1492 was the year Columbus set sail.

YES: Columbus set sail in 1492.

YES: In 1492 Columbus set sail.

 

Told you it was easy.

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Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.  GrammarWorks@msn.com.

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