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Write the Right Word: Numbers or Words?

Do you know when to use a numeral and when to use words to indicate a number?

The rule of thumb is that you spell out whole numbers below 10. So you would say, “The veterinarian treated 15 dogs, 10 cats, three hamsters and two parakeets.”

Here are some other general rules:

  • Use figures for measurements: “The recipe calls for 2 cups of flour, ½ cup of flour and ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon.” Or this: “Plant the seeds 3 inches deep and keep the rows 2 feet apart.” “He weighed 10 pounds, 3 ounces.”
  • Always use figures for ages: “The car is 3 years old.” “The girl is 5 years old.” “The boy has a 10-year-old sister and a 4-year-old brother.” Note the hyphens in the third sentence. The 10-year-old and 4-year-old are hyphenated because each three-word grouping forms a compound modifier.
  • Spell out numerals at the beginning of sentences: “Twenty-five students were signed up for the class.” Better yet, rewrite the sentence so the number isn’t at the start of the sentence. “This spring, 25 students signed up for the class.” The exception to this rule is years. “2016 started slowly for the construction industry.”
  • Use figures for percents: “Raises ranged from 2 to 5 percent.” “Only 1.5 percent of the crop was harvested.”
  • Miles can be tricky. Use figures for amounts under 10 in dimensions and speeds: “The farm measures 5 miles by 4 miles.” “The driver kept his speed at 55 mph the entire trip.” Spell out numbers below 10 in distances. “She walked four miles a day.”

, Information Specialist, 701-231-5391

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