When I was little, I was so accurate with numbers. When someone would ask my age, I would answer, “I’m five and three quarters and seven days and…” I would stall as I checked my Smurfette watch,” three hours.” Ask me today, and I’d say 29—the same age I have been claiming for the past five years. I think it’s fair to say that as we get older we start manipulating numbers to suit our needs.
- Boyfriend: How many guys have you been with?
Girlfriend: Quite a few more than the number I am about to give you.
- Girl: How tall are you?
Boy: I’m five el…I mean, six feet.
- Driver’s License Renewal Form Question: Weight?
Me: The number I am going to weigh after I finish the diet I will be starting tomorrow.
Although I partially blame this numbers-gone-wild attitude for our confusion regarding how to express numbers when we write, the main reason many of us get confused about when to actually spell out the number or when to use the symbol is because there’s really no accepted industry consensus. Some writing style guides require us to spell out the number if it can be expressed in two words or fewer (twenty-nine, seven, one hundred). Others require us to only spell out the numbers less than 10 (29, seven, 100). Others require us to use Roman numerals within XIV minutes of eating Italian food (XXIX, VII, C).
Because different industries and academic disciplines ascribe to different style guides, it’s probably a good idea to ask your bosses and instructors which they prefer. If you ask them and they look at you like you are crazy, then the good news is that you get to choose your own style.
I am going to choose to follow the easiest style: the one that says to only spell out numbers less than 10. I simply don’t have time for anything complicated because I’m very busy planning my next 29th birthday.