Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Rule of 10 - Working with Numbers in Text

One of my other (many) pet peeves is the incorrect handling of numerals in text. While the errant grammatical error is a nuisance, this is one of those things that can completely distract me, drawing me out of a work I otherwise enjoy. Part of the reason is that it's simply clunky, but another is that it's one of the basic tenets of good writing - one of those truly simple rules you should never forget. And one leads to the other: whenever improperly used, numerals should stand-out to the writer as clunky, prompting him to investigate further.

But again, there's really no need for all that, because all numerals are subject to The Rule of 10, which states simply, "Any number under 10 should be written-out as a word." That means one, two, three, four, all the way up to nine; numerals 10 and higher are written as numerals. Numbers consisting of more than five numerals require commas to delineate the "thousands" from the rest of the number. For example, "50,000" or "134,567." Technically, all numbers with four or more numerals should use a comma, but not everyone is that strict. It can also make articles with lots of numbers (and/or commas) hard to read.

Like all rules, The Rule of 10 has a caveat, but it isn't until we get into the millions that it comes into play. At that level (1 million and up), the whole thing gets a bit more complicated. In general, when talking about even millions (that is, multiples of 1 million) - such as 10 million, 30 million, even 100,000 million - you give the leading numeral, followed by the tens-place name (as in the examples just provided). However, when dealing with specific numbers above 1 million, the entire numeral is generally written-out - such as 1,213,456. Depending on the nature and tone of the work, you may find this method better serves your needs, even when dealing with even millions or billions. Either fashion, so long as commas are used with the numeral approach, is correct - just be consistent. You cannot "mix and match" the forms without specific notation - such as, "1 million - that is: 1,000,000." Notice the colon in the example; while a comma is more grammatically correct, the colon is more precise (because of the number of commas and length of the numeral).

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and write hundreds of pieces about The Rule of 10 to educate the ones who haven't already heard it 1,230,974,987 times!

© C Harris Lynn, 2009

1 comment:

ManoDogs said...

I forgot to mention that you always write-out numbers when they begin a sentence:

Wrong
10 times, already!

Correct
Ten times, I've told him.

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