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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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