Writing numbers in fiction and prose is rather complex, mainly because opinions vary. Even though it hasn’t really given me any sleepless nights because there is not much call for writing numbers in poetry, it assumes greater importance in the writing of fiction and other forms of prose writing.
Most writers agree that they are free to decide upon their own style but in my research, I found some commonly followed standards that I am going to list here for your reference.
The Associated Press Stylebook recommends spelling out the numbers zero through nine and using numerals thereafter—until one million is reached. (e.g. 50 million) However, it is important to note that this style is followed mainly for technical writing.
The Chicago Manual of Style recommends spelling out the numbers zero through one hundred and using figures thereafter—except for whole numbers used in combination with hundred, thousand, hundred thousand, million, billion, and beyond. (e.g. fifty million)
However, consistency is the key, whatever style is followed, or even when the rules are flouted.
According to the basic rules followed widely-
- Spell out numbers from zero through one hundred. She ran twenty miles before her legs gave up.
- Use numerals for most numbers beyond one hundred. The competition lasted 165 minutes.
- Spell out all numbers beginning a sentence.
- Hyphenate all compound numbers from twenty-one through ninety-nine.
- Hyphenate all written-out fractions. (two-thirds of the captured soldiers)
- With figures of four or more digits, use commas. (1,647,010)
- For less than a dollar write 75 cents instead of $0.75.
- Write dates as the 20th of July, 1934 or July 20, 1934
- Spell out ordinal numbers through one hundred as well. His home is on the Second Avenue of the 134th street.
- Use words rather than symbols and abbreviations in dialogue and in most forms of narrative. (e.g. degree, per cent)
- Use numerals when you include a.m. and p.m. Include a space between the numbers and a.m. or p.m (5.25 p.m.)
- Spell out numbers when you include o’clock. Don’t use o’clock with anything other than the hour.
- Decades can be written as words or numbers. (the eighties, ’80s or 1980s)
- Spell out century references. (twentieth century)
- Spell out numbers in dialogue. (I had twenty-three hundred dollars.)
- No commas or hyphens between hours and minutes, feet and inches, pounds and ounces, and dollars and cents that are spelt out. (At six feet three inches, he was the tallest of the brothers.)
- If you’ve got rules that conflict, choose the option that gives clarity to the reader. In fiction, words can almost always be substituted for numerals. And when in doubt, just write it out.
If you have something more to add, do share it and help each other grow. I look forward to your inputs and feedback.