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How to Write Percents

Should you use the word or symbol? Is "percent" singular or plural?

By
Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #101


Today's topic is part II of the series on numbers: percentages and decimal points.

Percent Versus Percentage

First let's get our terminology right. In some cases percent and percentage can be interchangeable (1), but the easiest way to choose the right word for the right situation is to use percent with a number and percentage without a number. For example, 

[Percent with a number] Forty percent of the chocolate was missing

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[Percentage without a number] What percentage of the chocolate was missing?

Percent Versus Per Cent

Also, in American English, when you write out the word percent, it's one word. It's more common to see the two-word version--per cent--in British English, but sources tell me the one-word version is becoming more common in Britain too (2, 3, 4). The evolution of the word is kind of interesting. It started out as the Latin phrase per centum, which means "by the hundred (1)," and over the years got shortened to the two-word English version, and is now quite established as a single English word (2).

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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