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How to Write Numbers

Style and context matter when you're using numbers in a sentence.

By
Mignon Fogarty
4-minute read
Episode #100

Dialogue

OK, here's a final rule that's pretty straightforward. If you're writing dialogue, for example quoting someone in a magazine article or writing a conversation in fiction, spell out all the numbers. Of course, even here The Chicago Manual of Style notes that you should use numerals "if [words] begin to look silly." But the idea is that you should lean toward using words in dialogue.

There is so much more to say about numbers that I'm going to make this a two-part series. Next week I'll cover rules about writing percents, decimals, and numbers over a million.

Web Bonus: What Is a Numeral?

Numeral can be used to refer to any symbol representing a number, including a word. I am using it in this episode to refer to Arabic numerals (e.g., 1, 2, 3).

Questions and comments for me, Grammar Girl, go to feedback@quickanddirtytips.com, or you can post them to me on Facebook or Twitter.

References Used for This Episode

Aaron, J. The Little, Brown Essential Handbook. New York: Pearson Education, 2006, p. 101.

Garner, B. Garner's Modern American Usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 560.

Goldstein, N., ed. The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. Reading: Perseus Books, 1998, p. 144-45.

Lutz, G. and Stevenson, D. Grammar Desk Reference. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2005, p.318.

"Numbers," Chicago Style Q&A. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.  (accessed March 25, 2008).

"Numbers," The Chicago Manual of Style, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2006, section 9. (accessed March 25, 2008).

Strumpf, M. and Douglas, A. The Grammar Bible. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004, p. 349.

The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005, p. 324-26.

Image of numbers © Shutterstock

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.