Writing Numbers


There are some interesting rules about how to write numbers in your text. You’d think that the easiest and clearest thing would be to write numbers as numerals (e.g., 3, 7, 12). Yet, there are so many places where it really doesn’t work, as you will see in this post.

Numbers 1-9

Use words. Examples: one, two, five, nine.

Numbers 10 and higher

Use figures. Examples: 10, 11, 25, 99.

Beginning a sentence

Use words, not figures. Example: Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie; not 24 blackbirds baked in a pie.

Numbers ending in y

Use a hyphen for numbers twenty-one to ninety-nine. Examples: 35 should be written as thirty-five; 365 should be written as three hundred sixty-five. Note: When written, there’s no hyphen between the number of hundreds (three) and the word hundred, but there is one between the sixty and the five.

Mixing words and figures

In spite of the above rules, don’t mix words and figures when dealing with the same subject. For example, the following sentence is okay: Marty has 3 baseball cards, but Billy has 33. However, when referring to different subjects, it’s acceptable to mix words and figures. Example: He gave me three baseball cards in exchange for 12 sticks of gum.

Numbers larger than 100

Never use the word and. As shrunk was misused in the movie Honey, I shrunk the Kids (it should have been shrank), so, too, was 101 misused in One Hundred and One Dalmatians; it should have been One Hundred One Dalmatians. Another example: 365 should be written (or spoken) as three hundred sixty-five; not three hundred and sixty five. It should be noted that these errors tend to happen more in speaking than in writing.

One reason and is not used in these numbers is that it’s used to imply a decimal point. Example: 98.6 could be spoken or written as ninety-eight point six, but it also could be spoken or written as ninety-eight and six tenths. Here, the word and is used to indicate the decimal point. Another reason is that the word and is used in arithmetic to mean plus. Thus, 5 and 6 equals 11. An example on an even larger scale: the number 1,053,005 should be written (or spoken) as one million fifty-three thousand five.


Decades may be described using words (eg, fifties, eighties) or figures (1950s, 1980s). Note: Never use an apostrophe before the letter s, which indicates a possessive noun or a contraction. However, if describing a decade, it’s acceptable to put an apostrophe before the number to replace the century (eg, ‘50s, ‘80s). But, be careful; if it’s not clear which century the decade belongs to (eg, ‘50s = 1850s or 1950s), it should be written (or spoken) fully (eg, 1950s).


Use words to describe the time period. Examples: sixteenth century (1500s), twentieth century (1900s). However, sometimes informally, these may be written 16th century or 20th century.

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