Writing numbers

How to write numbers in a formal English text:

  • Spell out small numbers (one to ten); higher numbers can be written as numerals.
  • You should not start a sentence with a numeral. Don’t say: “40 screaming teens showed up for the Justin Bieber concert.” Write: “Forty screaming teens showed up for the Justin Bieber concert.”
  • In English, thousands are separated by a comma (not the full stop as in Norway). For example, the area is 7,000 square miles. The latest rules state that a space and not a comma should be used for numbers over 9,999 . Thus, 7,000, 9,999 etc. but 10 000, 99 000, etc.
  • Don’t write things like: “He came in 1st place." Spell out the word: He came in first place.
     

The decimal point in English

One special problem area for Norwegians learning to write numerals in English is the decimal point. In English the decimal point is “.”. As we have mentioned, the comma is used to mark thousands, as in 7,100 (seven thousand one hundred). If, for example, your new bicycle costs, seven thousand one hundred and 23 dollars and fifty cents, this would be written as $ 7,123.50.

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When referring to percentages, English also uses “.”. For example: In Norway, 73.5 per cent of all inhabitants like snow. Notice how we have started with the prepositional phrase “In Norway”. One of the reasons we have done this is because, as mentioned above, in formal English one should avoid starting a sentence with a numeral, unless you write it out in full. This includes percentages. Thus:

Not accepted:
*73.5 per cent of all Norwegians like snow.

Accepted:

Seventy-three per cent of all Norwegians like snow.

Or:

A total of 73 per cent of Norwegians like snow / In Norway, 73.5 per cent of all inhabitants like snow.