Posted: March 24th, 2014, 12:29 pm   By: brittany.corners

“You look like a future pedophile in this picture, number one. Number two, it doesn’t even have a first name, it just says ‘McLovin’!”—Seth spelling out the numbers behind a bad fake ID

This week, we review when to spell out numerals.

Mastering the rules for numerals is more difficult than performing the tablecloth trick without at least a few bucks in property damage and some injuries. In fact, our official style guide has 49 separate entries dedicated to various rules about spelling out numerals. The issue is a straight-up hot mess . . . so let’s start at the beginning.

What Is a Numeral?

A numeral is not a number. It expresses a number. Numerals can be figures, letters, or words—but they all signify numbers. That is why the Arabic figure 5, the Latin letter V, and the Spanish word cinco all look very different but mean the same thing.

When writing numerals, it’s easy to get confused about when to use figures or words. For example, do you write that the creep next door owns “6 cats” or “six cats”? Let’s keep it simple by reviewing the guidelines most likely to affect your content (examples included for less obvious rules).

Spell Them Out

In the following situations, use words instead of figures to indicate numbers:

  • Whole numbers less than 10: six cats
  • At the beginning of a sentence, unless your numeral identifies a calendar year
  • For ordinal numbers, spell out first through ninth, unless it’s part of a name: Randy bravely became the first man to summit Mount OhMyGodWhatAreYouDoing.
  • Casual expressions: Dude, thanks a million for bringing the delicious horse burgers to my birthday party.

Don’t Bother

Use figures for numerals when writing about the following:

  • Numbers 10 and above
  • Decades in history: Most critics believe television peaked in the ’80s.
  • Distances: The evil spiders parachuted 4 miles to terrorize the unsuspecting Brazilians.
  • Percent and percentages
  • Speeds: Grandma can run 2 miles per hour.
  • Times, except for noon and midnight
  • Years and ages

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be Numeral Uno.