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Writing Numbers

You may be asking yourself, this website is supposed to be about words, not numbers, right? And yet, as much as some of us may wish to avoid them, we still need to deal with numbers occasionally in writing. And they come with their own set of rules. Because we speak about numbers easily and with confidence — for example, noting three goldfinches at the backyard feeder — it serves our writing well to be able to get those numbers into the appropriate print form.


  • 15 people took selfies last year in dangerous situations.
  • Our colleagues have worked here for two, 5, and twelve years, respectively.
  • I like three fourth’s of his songs.


Always spell out numbers at the beginning of sentences: “Fifteen people took selfies.” When you have a list of numbers, be consistent regardless of how many each one indicates: “for two, five, and twelve years” is consistent. When it comes to writing fractions, hyphenate when spelled out, but do not use an apostrophe: “I like three-fourths of his songs.”


Ordinal numbers tell the order of things (first, second, third, etc.), whereas cardinal numbers count: one, two, three, and beyond. Few people actually write out sentences such as “This is the twenty-six thousandth time I have told you.” We might say these words, but we rarely write them. Instead, we usually write sentences such as “I have told you 26,000 times.”

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