Blog - Proofreading and Copy Editing

Rules for Presenting Numbers

The presentation of numbers in a document can sometimes leave a proofreader at sixes and sevens.  Even if you are not following a specific house style in your work, it can be invaluable to lay down a few rules in your mind before beginning so that the style of numbering in your document feels consistent throughout.


In general, numbers can be expressed in two different ways:

  • Arabic numerals: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
  • words: one, two, three, four, five, etc.

Which of these you choose may count on the feel you want to give your document; for example, if writing descriptive prose, numerals may feel interruptive and so you may opt to write all numbers out as full words. On the other hand, a technical or instructive document may benefit from the clarity of numerals. Many publishers use the following (or a similar) rule of thumb: full words from one to nine, and numerals for 10 or above.

It is common to see chapter numbers expressed either as numerals or as words; whichever you choose, you should ensure it is consistent. (Also take care to check the number of chapters; to opt for full words and then find yourself using references such as ‘Chapter Two Hundred and Seventy-Seven’ can be impractical!)

Even when following one of these blanket rules, certain exceptions can arise; here are some of the most common.

The following should usually be expressed as numerals:

  • units (15 cm, 30 km, 64 GB)
  • year dates (2015)
  • page references (p. 225)
  • names or trademarks registered in that style (50 First Dates, 7 Up)

The following should usually be expressed as words:

  • numbers that begin a sentence
  • names or trademarks registered in that style (Ocean’s Eleven, Nineteen Eighty-Four)


A few other useful numeric rules to remember…

Compound numbers, when written out, should be hyphenated:

  • forty-four
  • but one hundred and forty-four

Commas can be used in prose or non-technical texts in numbers of four figures or more:

  • 1,348
  • 51,357
  • 10,000,000

In technical texts you can opt to remove the comma completely or replace it with a space (for numbers above four figures using a space can be clearer):

  • 1348
  • 51357 or 51 357
  • 10 000 000

Commas should not be used in numbers of four figures or more in:

  • years (2013)
  • page/chapter/line numbers (page 3145)
  • house or building numbers (1572 Main Street)

When expressing a numeric range, use ‘from X to X’ or an en dash (X−X):

  • from 1914 to 1918
  • pages 303−306

Never use a combination of this style (e.g. from 1914−1918). The phrase ‘between 1914−1918’ is very common but also incorrect.

Also never use elision in number ranges:

  • they ranged in cost: £1—2000 ( this means from £1 to £2000; must write £1000−2000)

Plural numbers, as with other plurals, do not need an apostrophe:

  • 1960s
  • sixes and sevens
  • in his fifties

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Posted in Numbers, Proofreading/copy-editing, Punctuation, Style

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