*Consistency in your formatting choices is one way to demonstrate your attention to detail.*

*Consistency in your formatting choices is one way to demonstrate your attention to detail.*Always consult your target journal’s style sheet to see what they prefer.

For general writing, most guides agree that you should use words for the numbers one through nine, but for larger numbers the rules vary wildly from style guide to style guide.

Some say to use words for the numbers one to one hundred, one to ten, any word that can be written with one or two words, and so on.

First things first, what is the difference between a number and a numeral? In English, the comma is used as a thousands separator (and the period as a decimal separator), to make large numbers easier to read. With everyday writing and recipes you can use digits, like “4% of the children” or “Add 2 cups of brown rice.” In formal writing, however, you should spell the percentage out like “12 percent of the players” (or “twelve percent of the players,” depending on your preference as explained in point three). If the number is rounded or estimated, spell it out. If my teacher has 23 beginning students, she also has 18 advanced students, not eighteen advanced students.

One could say that the difference between a number and its numerals is like the difference between a person and her name. Some experts say that any one-word number should be written out. Finally, the International Systems of Units (SI) recommends that a space should be used to separate groups of three digits, and both the comma and the period should be used only to denote decimals, like $13 200,50 (the comma part is a mess…

So even though you would normally write out the word "one" if you were writing, "The snail advanced one inch," if you added a number over nine to that sentence, then you would use numerals instead of words when you write, "The snail advanced 1 inch on the first day and 12 inches on the second day." (You'd write both 1 and 12 as a numeral.) Most style guides agree that you should break your general rule in cases like that, when doing so would make your document more internally consistent.

If you have a third number that would normally be written as a word in the example sentence above, and if it isn't referring to inches, you would still write it out as a word.

“Three,” “3” and “III” are all symbols used to express the same number (or the concept of “threeness”). The small numbers, such as whole numbers smaller than ten, should be spelled out. If you don’t spell numbers out it will look like you’re sending an instant message, and you want to be more formal than that in your writing. No other standard rule: Experts don’t always agree on other rules. In Continental Europe the opposite is true, periods are used to separate large numbers and the comma is used for decimals. Use “About 400 million people speak Spanish natively,” instead of “About 400,000,000 people speak Spanish natively If you’re using the exact number, you’d write it out, of course.

A number is an abstract concept while a numeral is a symbol used to express that number. So write the size of Alaska as 571,951 square miles instead of 571951 square miles. Make it “Fourscore and seven years ago,” not “4 score and 7 years ago.” That means you might have to rewrite some sentences: “Fans bought 400,000 copies the first day”. Rounded numbers over a million are written as a numeral plus a word. It can be confusing if you write “7 13-year-olds”, so write one of them as a numeral, like “seven 13-year-olds”.

Many writers have difficulty figuring out when to write numbers in words or figures.

There are some general rules but these are not applicable in all contexts.

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