Among the many questions I am asked through my website, word-mart.com, the most frequent ones are on numbers – “Should this number be written in figures or in words?” “Should this be a number or a numeral?”
First off, what is the difference between a number and a numeral? A number is a concept for a value. A numeral, on the other hand, is a representation of that concept. For example, if you hear someone say the number 3, you conceive the number in your mind, which makes you understand ‘how many’. When this same number is written down on paper – like “3” – then it becomes a representation of that concept.
Now comes the part on writing down the numbers on paper. Sometimes these are written in figures (e.g. ‘3’), at other times it is spelled out in letters (e.g. ‘three’). In general parlance, a numeral is one that is written in figures, and a number is one that is spelled out. And this is what confuses many – when should a number be written figures, and when should it be spelled out?
It all depends on the situation, but there are some basic rules. These are:
1. Small numbers are spelled out, and big numbers are written in figures.
2. Never begin a sentence with a numeral.
3. When the number is in the middle of a sentence, spell it out.
4. When using a set of numbers, use numerals.
5. Decimal fractions and percentages should be expressed in numerals, not in words.
To know more about numbers and numerals, and specific cases as to when to write what, visit this page.