Numbers and Numerals Count

A few handy rules about numbers and numerals:

Don’t put the letter A in front of numeric values. Don’t say, “A 127 people chose option b,” or “the suit cost a $100.” Just say, “There were 127 people who chose option b,” or “the suit cost $100.” Be aware, too, that you can’t begin a sentence with a numeral:

Wrong: “127 people chose option B.”
Correct: “One hundred and twenty people chose option B” OR “A total of 127 people chose option B.”

The second choice is really better because you really aren’t supposed to spell out numbers over a hundred. Some editors argue that numerals shouldn’t be used in dialogue because people don’t “speak” in numerals, but there is nothing objectionable, according to Chicago style, that prevents a writer from using numerals in dialog. The main concern is you want to be clear and consistent. No one wants to read a sentence like “Hey, I got seventeen thousand, eight hundred, and fifty-six downloads on Amazon.” This is so much easier on the eyes:

  • “Hey, I saw you had 236 five-star reviews on Amazon—that’s great,” she said.

Chicago recommends using numerals for dates and in brand names like 7-Eleven.

  • “I graduated class of ’96.” (make sure your curly quote curves like a backward c)
  • “Let’s ride down to 7-Eleven and get eight hot dogs.”

Also be mindful when writing monetary values. Don’t write “$100 dollars,” just “$100.” You have already implied dollars by using the $ sign.

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  1. Hi CS,

    Great advice as usual.
    A thought about quotes – quotation marks – speech marks. I note you use doubles ” . In UK writing for speech – and I think in Spanish, single quotes are used, ‘ . I think this makes prose looks less cluttered. Any thoughts? On my ACER notebook the single ‘ is a normal keystroke while the ” is a shift + “. Ah, well, we are troubled by such small things…

    1. US style is always double quotes unless quotes inside quotes. And all punctuation is inside as well–different from UK. You know weAmericans–always wanting to veer off and do things their own way 🙂

  2. I understand that CMOS accepts both “one hundred twenty” and “one hundred and twenty” as proper usage. However, it is my opinion that “one hundred and twenty” is visually more cluttered, and should only be used in dialogue, and “one hundred twenty” used elsewhere. Your opinion?

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