Tag Archive - editing tips

What Time Is It?

I see a lot of confusion about when to spell out the time of day and when to show it as numerals. The rules are pretty simple. You want to spell out times of day if they are in even, half, or quarter hours: “She left at seven o’clock and returned at seven fifteen.” If you want to stipulate a time of day that doesn’t follow this rule, use the numerals: “He looked at the clock and it read 6:18.”

Now, if you really want to emphasize an exact time, you can use numerals even with times that normally would be spelled out: “The store opens at exactly 8:30.”

As far as dates go, just use the numeral and don’t make it an ordinal: “He’s coming on December 5” (not December 5th). Or spell out “fifth.” If you are not mentioning the month with the day, you spell out the day: “She should be here on the sixteenth.”

Are You Likely or Apt to Read This?

Here are four words that are often confused: apt, likely, prone, liable. Their differences are a bit subtle, but they do mean different things, so you might want to write these in your notebook for future reference.

Apt: Means one is habitually inclined: A frog is apt to gobble up a fly if it gets too close.

Likely: Means one is inclined or tending toward something: She is likely to win (implying the odds are with her).

Prone: Means one is inclined but usually implies undesirable results:  He’s prone to tripping.

Liable: Means one is likely to suffer (always undesirable consequences): She’s liable to have accidents (implies probability).

These words have no bearing on other meaning of these words, such as a likely story, he’s lying prone, she’s an apt pupil, not liable for the accident (legally responsible). Being a copyeditor, I’m apt to look for misuse of these words! And I’m likely to find some!

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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