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Grammar Rodeo #9


Renee Stevens

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It's been a while since we had a Grammar Rodeo from Cia, but this month that feature has returned. Let's see what Cia has to say about.... NUMBERS!

 

Let’s talk numbers! 01 001 1 100 0... no that’s not what I mean. LOL One of the subtle details that refines writing is how an author addresses numbers. Let’s face it, you can’t write anything at length without running into this issue because our lives are dictated by things like time and money.

 

Numbers in Fiction

 

Numbers at the beginning of a sentence. Basically a no no. Write these out instead of using the numerals, but if that doesn’t work, rephrase. You really don’t want to start a sentence with a numeral.

 

Zero through One hundred. You’ll notice I spelled those out. That’s the rule! Zero through one hundred is written out. 101 and more, you can write the numerals. But what if I’m talking about hundreds, or thousands? Well, if it’s an odd number like 4759 you write it out with numerals, but if it’s a whole number like forty-seven thousand or five hundred, you’d spell those out.

 

Dates. Years: Write these as numerals, though you could use twenty-twenty instead of 2020 if you really wanted to, but odd years, like 1999 would be awkward spelled out so numerals are just fine. Abbreviated years: You need a single apostrophe that is a ‘closed’ quote (the quote that comes at the end of closed’ because it’s taking the place of the missing numerals) such as ’99. Decades: 90s is plural for the years involved, folks, so no apostrophe needed! Months and days: Spell the month and write the day as a numeral when they are placed together, like December 21. If you are just using the date without the month, you spell it out like, “We’re going on vacation on the twenty-first.”

 

Time: Not too complicated. If you’re doing a general timeframe, “Meet me at five thirty” you write it out. Same thing for “Meet me at a quarter to five” or any other variation of quarter of, half past, etc... and if you use o’clock you always spell out the time instead of using numerals. Where this does get a little tricky: The rule is if the time is emphasized, you can write it out as numerals. “Meet me at the airport on December 21 at 5:55 p.m.” but that’s more of a judgement call than a do or don’t rule.
Noon and midnight. Always spell these out instead of using 12:00 a.m or p.m..

 

Money. Oh, so complicated this seems! Not really, though. Follow the zero through one hundred spelling rule and write out any money that can be written out like ninety-nine cents or five hundred dollars. If you are writing out a dollar and cents number, you can use numbers such as $500.95. If you have a number like 4759, you can write it out as $4,759 but don’t include the decimal and cents numerals unless you have other numbers that include them, like: “She charged me $500.95 to $4,759.00 for grammar lessons” for example.

 

Addresses. There are three main components of this, and it’s not too hard. Specific addresses: Building numbers always precede the street name when you’re giving an address. Like: I live at 1234 Fifth Avenue. (Ha! I’m not really giving out my address!) If you’re naming a location, you would spell it out, like “One Police Plaza”.

 


So those are the most common number usages I’ve seen in fiction. What about you? Anything you don’t think I covered and still need to know?

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I like you showed a.m and p.m. Too often I see stories where there are no periods after each letter.

 

One other thing: You didn't touch upon ordinals, but I often see authors use superscript to mark them when full-size letters should be used when they're written as numerals (2nd, 3rd, 5th not 2nd, 3rd, 5th.) I have to manually change those since Word reverts to superscript automatically. There's probably a setting I can adjust for that LOL

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Ordinals: that must be a difference between British and American English, because I was taught to write 2nd, 3rd, 5th. Or are you saying they should be written this way when they are dates eg October 2nd, but not when they are instead of second, third and fifth (eg he came 2nd).

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I like you showed a.m and p.m. Too often I see stories where there are no periods after each letter.

 

One other thing: You didn't touch upon ordinals, but I often see authors use superscript to mark them when full-size letters should be used when they're written as numerals (2nd, 3rd, 5th not 2nd, 3rd, 5th.) I have to manually change those since Word reverts to superscript automatically. There's probably a setting I can adjust for that LOL

There is a way to stop Word automatically doing that. :) Mouse over the ordinal, and you should see a "lightning" icon. By clicking on that, it gives you some autocorrect options, one of them being to not automatically superscript the ordinals.

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Ordinals: that must be a difference between British and American English, because I was taught to write 2nd, 3rd, 5th. Or are you saying they should be written this way when they are dates eg October 2nd, but not when they are instead of second, third and fifth (eg he came 2nd).

Tim-

 

When in doubt about how to write numbers, I use a summary sheet distilled from the Chicago Manual and they say you ALWAYS use regular letters instead of superscript. Maybe someone with more experience than I can give us a definitive answer. Remember I'm still fairly new to this.

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There is a way to stop Word automatically doing that. :) Mouse over the ordinal, and you should see a "lightning" icon. By clicking on that, it gives you some autocorrect options, one of them being to not automatically superscript the ordinals.

Thanks, pup. I knew there was a way, just too lazy to figure it out LOL

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One area I had problem with my current sports-based series was sporting references to numbers. There are lot: scores, player numbers, draft picks to name just three.

 

I deliberately avoided giving standard scores because I doubt most people would understand what 10.9.69 would mean (10 goals, each worth 6 points, 9 behinds, each worth 1 point, for a total of 69 points), but it got trickier with player numbers and draft picks. Eventually (and I wasn't consistent in the story since the situation evolved during the writing and posting), I used explicit digits for most player numbers and draft picks. For example, "Who is playing on numbers 17 and 24?" and "The club has draft picks 13, 22, 48, and 60". The basic rule ended up being if the number itself was the subject, use digits. If it was only being references, spell it out.

 

"What's your number?"

"Seventeen."

"And who is number 45?"

"Bob."

 

To be honest, I don't think there's a firm rule, because it depends on the context. In the above exchange, I've mixed both words and digits for the numbers, and that doesn't look good. I think it would be better to be consistent in the same portion of text, even if that means not being consistent across the entire story. Using digits is, in my opinion, best when you have lots of numbers (even if they're all between one and one hundred) because spelling them out all as words makes them a wall of text.

 

Posts disagreeing to commence in 10...9...8...7...6...

 

(or should that be ten...nine...eight...seven...six...? :P)

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@ Graeme: IMO Rules were made to be broken. Except when dealing with a grammar nazi, but we don't like those type of people anyway. :P

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There are rules for just about everything--though finding them can be difficult when they're not expressly laid out for your particular circumstance like Graeme's situation. What is important? Consistency. If there isn't a clear cut 'this is right and this is wrong' that is specific and logical, then you have to work it out on your own. As long as you devise a logical format and stick with it, your readers will understand. Now, if you're publishing it's important to know what the house style is and use that, but otherwise, it's all about consistency more than strict adherence to any single set of rules, especially if they don't really apply to a 'real world' situation.

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'Basically a no no. Write these out instead of using the numerals, but if that doesn’t work, rephrase. You really don’t want to start a sentence with a numeral.

 

Zero through One hundred. You’ll notice I spelled those out. That’s the rule! Zero through one hundred is written out. 101 and more, you can write the numerals. But what if I’m talking about hundreds, or thousands?'

 

Shouldn't the 101 be written out since it's the beginning of the sentence? :P

 

Cia, I love reading your Grammar Rodeo! I always learn something from you! :)

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*ding, ding, ding* I was hoping someone would notice that!!! Yep, if I were writing this for publication, that is exactly the type of thing that would need to be changed.

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When I'm editing a story or essay, if I come across a number at the beginning or the end of a sentence, that's the first thing I change and comment on.

 

My sentence brought up another question I had, Cia: I think a few sites are divided on this--can you end a sentence with a preposition? Most times (for me at least), it's difficult trying to think of ways to rephrase the question where the preposition wouldn't be at the end.

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That's a "rule" we were all taught, but it's not an actual rule that most people or authors follow. More and more grammar rules are being adjusted to follow speech patterns, and avoiding prepositions ending sentences just isn't something most people worry about doing.

 

CMoS 5.176 Ending a sentence with a preposition

 

The traditional caveat of yesteryear against ending sentences with prepositions is, for most writers, an unnecessary and pedantic restriction. As Winston Churchill famously said, “That is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put.” A sentence that ends in a preposition may sound more natural than a sentence carefully constructed to avoid a final preposition. Compare, for example, this is the case I told you about with this is the case about which I told you. The “rule” prohibiting terminal prepositions was an ill-founded superstition. Today many grammarians use the dismissive term pied-piping for this phenomenon.

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