When To Spell Out Numbers In Writing: Guide And Examples For Writers

When it comes to writing, one of the most common questions that often arises is when to spell out numbers and when to use numerical figures. Should you write “three” or “3”? The answer may not always be clear-cut, but understanding the rules and guidelines can help ensure consistency and clarity in your writing.

Numbers play a significant role in our everyday communication, whether it’s in academic papers, business reports, or creative writing. However, knowing when to spell out numbers can be tricky, especially with differing style guides and conventions.

It is usually best to write out numbers from zero to one hundred in nontechnical writing. In scientific and technical writing, the most suited style is to write out numbers under ten. While there are exceptions to these rules, your predominant concern should be expressing numbers consistently.

Different editorial-style manuals have different rules for when to spell out numbers instead of using numerals. Keep reading to find out when to spell out numbers and use numerals in different writing styles.

What Are the Rules for Spelling Out Numbers?

Each editorial style manual—including AP, APA, MLA, and Chicago Manual of Style—has different rules for spelling out numbers in the text. Numerical representations of amounts are employed in some contexts, whereas words are used in others. Numbers that start a sentence are usually always written out. It’s crucial to remember that there are exceptions to any writing style’s standards, particularly when working with whole numbers, fractions, and greater quantities.

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7 Rules for Writing Numbers in APA Style

The American Psychological Association (or APA) style manual focuses on scientific writing but can be used in online editorials. To spell out numbers correctly using the APA style, here are general rules to follow:

  1. Spell out numbers below 10. Numerals should be used for numbers 10 and above, numbers below 10 should be spelled out.
  2. Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence. A number that begins a sentence must be spelled out not written as a numeral, even if the number is below 10.
  3. Spell out common fractions or phrases with numbers. Write out numbers when they are part of common phrases or fractions. For example, you spell out the number in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” rather than using the numeral. If you’re using a common fraction or percentage like “one in fifteen people,” you also should spell out your numbers.
  4. Use numerals for measurements. If a number comes before a measurement (5 cm, 7g), use the numeral form rather than spelling it out.
  5. Use numerals for fractions, ratios, and percentages. Any number used for data and statistics (75%, 6:1) must come in a numeral form rather than the word spelling.
  6. Use numerals for sums of money, dates, ages, and time. If you’re discussing numbers like dollar amounts (3 dollars) or somebody’s age (7 years old), use numerals rather than spelling.
  7. Numbers in a series. When you’re referring to a number in a series—like Grade 7, or District 4—you have to use the numeral and capitalize the noun that comes before it.

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4 Rules for Spelling Out Numbers in MLA Style

Here are a few formatting tips for following the Modern Language Association (or MLA) Style Guide for numbers.

  1. Write the numbers at the beginning of a sentence in words. If a number starts a sentence it should be spelled out rather than written as a numeral.
  2. Spell out simple numbers. If a number can be written with one or two words (fourteen, ninety-nine), it is spelled out. Numerals should be used in all other instances.
  3. Hyphenate compound numbers. Hyphens should be used for numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.
  4. Use symbols and abbreviations. Writers should pair numerals with their right symbols, such as “$” or “%” when necessary.

How To Spell Out Numbers in AP Style

The Associated Press style also comes with its own set of rules for styling numbers, listed below.

  1. Spell out numbers one through nine. Use numerals for numbers 10 and greater. Ordinal numbers (i.e., third, 12th), follow the same known rule.
  2. Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence. If a number begins a sentence it should be spelled out.
  3. Use numerals for money. Except for cents or amounts over one million, all money should be expressed in number figures and not alphabets.
  4. Avoid starting sentences with numerals. If a sentence precedes a number (“Seven people arrived at the station”), it should be spelled out, unless that number is a year, in which case it can appear at the beginning of the sentence in numeral form: “1865 brought about a year of tremendous change.”
  5. The time of day can be expressed as a single number. Rather than typing out “10:00 p.m.,” time of day should be expressed as an abbreviated numeral (“10 p.m.”).

SEE ALSO: How To Write Dates Correctly In English, Spanish, MLA Format, Formal Letter

5 Rules for Spelling Out Numbers in Chicago Style

The Chicago Style Manual details its own guidelines for including numbers within a text.

  1. Spell out numbers zero through one hundred. Use numeral figures to represent numbers above one hundred, but spell out whole numbers like three hundred or one thousand. Use numerals to represent non-whole numbers, such as 1,239 or 603.
  2. Spell out cents for amounts less than one dollar. For amounts less than a dollar, avoid using a dollar sign or decimal point, and instead spell out the type of change. For example, “Soda only used to cost 25 cents.”
  3. Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence. If a number begins a sentence, it should be spelled out rather than noted as a numeral.
  4. Spell out large rounded numbers. Large whole numbers over 100 that are followed by hundred, thousand, hundred thousand, or million, should be spelled out unless they refer to amounts of money.
  5. Use numerals for fractions. Use numerals to represent your common fractions (8 ½, 4 ¾) unless they begin a sentence, in which case you would use words to spell them out (Eight and one-half, four, and three-fourths).

How To Write Numbers on Checks

There is a unique pattern that applies when you write a cheque that will be used to draw money from a bank account or credit card cash advance. In this instance, the amount must be entered numerically in the space provided next to the dollar sign. You’ll then have to express it clearly. Since it takes 100 cents to make a dollar, you have the option of expressing the cents as a fraction out of 100 or using words for the dollars and cents. Remember to put the word “and” in between the pennies and the dollars.

  • When writing a check for $1,044.12, the full text should be written as one thousand forty-four dollars and 12/100.
  • If you are writing a check for $182.40, you could write one hundred eighty-two dollars and fifty cents or one hundred eighty-two dollars and 50/100.
  • If you are writing a check for $79.00 even, the text could say seventy-nine dollars and 00/100seventy-nine dollars and no cents, or seventy-nine dollars only.

FAQs On When To Spell Out Numbers In Writing

How can I start a sentence with a number?

If a number starts a sentence it should be spelled out rather than written as a numeral.

How do I write a number that comes before a measurement?

If a number comes before a measurement (5 cm, 7g), use the numeral form rather than spelling it out.

Is there any general rule on how to use numbers in writing?

There are no universal rules when writing numbers unless you’re following a specific style guide or handbook or, in a professional context, working with an in-house style guide.


There is no hard and fast rule around when to spell out numbers and when to use numerals in your writing. It’s all dependent on the writing style guide or context and in-house writing style.


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