Everything You Need to Know About Numbers in AP Style
  • 4-minute read
  • 15th September 2020

Everything You Need to Know About Numbers in AP Style

The AP Stylebook is a popular style guide in the business and journalism worlds. But how should you write numbers in AP style? In this post, we explain everything you need to know, including:

  • The general principles to follow for numbers in AP style.
  • When to use numerals and when to spell out numbers as words.
  • How to write very large numbers.
  • When you should use Roman numerals rather than Arabic numerals.

For information on all the above, check out our guide below.

Numbers in AP Style

Produced by the Associated Press, the AP Stylebook has a few basic recommendations for how to write numbers. In general, you should:

  • Spell out numbers up to nine (e.g., She spent four weeks in prison).
  • Use numerals for ten and above (e.g., There were 112 stick insects).

These rules apply to both cardinal and ordinal numbers. However, the AP Stylebook also has guidance on when to use numerals and words for numbers in particular situations. And in these cases, you should stick to the specific advice regardless of how big or small the number is.

When to Use Numerals in AP Style

Key cases in which AP style suggests using numerals include:

  • Academic course numbers (e.g., Philosophy 101).
  • Addresses (e.g., 10 Downing Street).
  • Ages (e.g., A 7-year-old boy, The tree is 200 years old).
  • Dates, years and decades (e.g., Feb. 12, 2020, 1970s).
  • Decimals, percentages and fractions (e.g., 5.6, 8%, 3 ½), except for simple fractions under one (e.g., two-fifths, three-quarters).
  • Mathematics (e.g., 2 + 2 = 5, Multiply by 7 and add 3).
  • Measurements (e.g., 4 miles, 5 ml) and money (e.g., $8, £100).
  • Odds and ratios (e.g., A 2-1 chance).
  • Page numbers and sequential designations (e.g., Page 34, Chapter 2).
  • Recipes (e.g., 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 cup of milk).
  • Split decisions and votes (e.g., A 4-5 decision).
  • Sport scores (e.g., The team won 6-0 in the replay).
  • Times of day (e.g., 3:30 p.m., 6 a.m.), except noon and midnight.
  • Vehicle names (e.g., Apollo 11, B-2 bomber), except for Air Force One.

The AP also suggests using numerals in tabular material, statistics, and sequences, even for numbers below ten.

When to Spell Out Numbers in AP Style

There are also a few times when you should always spell out a number:

  • At the start of a sentence (e.g., Two thousand people attended), except for years (e.g., 2016 raised a lot of questions about democracy).
  • In figures of speech (e.g., You’re one in a million), proper names (e.g., The Fab Four), and other customary usages (e.g., The Twelve Apostles).
  • In casual or indefinite uses (e.g., Dealing with it one day at a time).

Except in the noted exception of years, these override the general rules for numeral use, so make sure to use words even for numbers over nine.

Millions, Billions and Trillions

For large round numbers, AP style suggests a mix of numerals and words:

Up to 5 million people may be affected.

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

It landed the company with a $2 billion lawsuit.

This provides a balance between simplicity and clarity.

Roman Numerals in AP Style

As a guideline, AP style only suggest using Roman numerals for:

  • Wars (e.g., Word War I, World War II).
  • Sequential titles of monarchs (e.g., Queen Elizabeth II).
  • Certain legislative acts (e.g., Title IX).

Otherwise, the AP Stylebook suggests using Roman numerals sparingly.

Numbers in Headlines

AP style recommends using numerals for numbers in headlines. This applies even for numbers under ten and when a number appears at the start of a headline.

The only exceptions to this rule are the following:

  1. Casual usages (e.g., “One of the first…” and “Hundreds of people…,” not “1 of the first…” or “100s of people…”)
  2. Numbers in proper names that are conventionally written as words (e.g., “Six Flags announces…,” not “6 Flags announces…”)

Keep an eye out for these exceptions if you’re using numbers in a title or headline.

AP Style Proofreading Services

Need a little help making sure your document follows AP style conventions? If so, we have proofreaders who can help. All you need to do is upload a 500-word sample document for free today to find out more.

Comments (36)
Amy Austin
25th April 2021 at 18:39
Do I need numerals or spell out words for AP style: In blind taste tests in each of these four cities, panelists chose Wedgies four to one over other snacks
    Proofed
    26th April 2021 at 10:25
    Hi, Amy. AP style suggests using words for smaller numbers but numerals for ratios, and it allows a mix of numerals and words in sentence containing multiple numbers, so it would be "In blind taste tests in each of these four cities, panelists chose Wedgies 4-to-1 over other snacks."
Nikki
27th April 2021 at 21:33
How would you write four to ten seconds in AP style? Would it be four to 10 seconds? Or four to ten (to keep it consistent)? Oddly, I cannot find an answer to this anywhere!
    Proofed
    28th April 2021 at 08:37
    Hi, Nikki. AP style permits mixing words and numerals in a sentence with multiple numbers, so "four to 10 seconds" would be fine, although there's definitely a case for going with "four to ten" for consistency in that situation (depending on how closely you want to stick to AP style).
      Tammy
      12th May 2021 at 13:59
      Hi, I am also wondering about the "four to 10" question. Your last comment - depending on how closely you want to stick to AP style - is not clear. Do you mean that "four to 10 seconds" sticks more closely to AP style, or "four to ten seconds" is closer to AP style because of consistency? Thanks.
      Proofed
      12th May 2021 at 15:30
      Hi, Tammy. As explained in the post, AP style recommends writing numbers under ten as words and larger numbers as numerals, so the standard form in AP style would be “four to 10.” As in the previous comment, though, there's a case for favoring consistency here if you're not so worried about following AP style strictly.
Vincent
25th July 2021 at 16:29
Hmmm -- wouldn't AP style dictate "7-year-old boy" (hyphenate all words of a compound modifier proceeding a noun), and doesn't AP style always demand "8 percent" and never "8%"?
    Proofed
    26th July 2021 at 10:07
    Hi, Vincent. Thanks for pointing out the missing hyphen in one of the examples (now corrected). On percentages, AP style recommends to "[u]se the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space" in most cases. I think this approach was only introduced in 2019, though, so perhaps you're referring to an older edition of the AP Stylebook?
Kurt Otto Landefeld
17th August 2021 at 18:03
How does AP handle hundreds of thousands? As in "...announced that more than $870,000 in funding will be distributed" Or is it "announced that more than $870 thousand in funding will be distributed"?
    Proofed
    18th August 2021 at 08:36
    Hi, Kurt. Other than the exceptions noted, AP style recommends using numerals for any number over 10 and under one million.
KD
27th August 2021 at 20:25
FYI - in the guidance provided "Use numerals for ten and above" I'd think you would want to use numerals "10" instead of spelling it out.
    Proofed
    30th August 2021 at 09:41
    Hi, KD. Thanks for the comment, but we don't use AP style on this blog so the post won't follow the AP's recommendations on everything! We're just explaining the rules for those looking to understand it, so it's only the examples here that should stick closely to AP rules.
Jazmin
16th September 2021 at 16:37
What would be the correct way to write numbers in this form? "Reduce annual contract payments by 10 to 15 percent."
    Proofed
    16th September 2021 at 17:20
    Hi, Jazmin. If you're asking about AP style (there is plenty of room for variation more generally), then the correct form would be “Reduce annual contract payments by 10% to 15%.” This is because AP style recommends using the "%" sign when paired with numerals.
Julie
27th September 2021 at 17:52
How would you write a number like 10^24, which would be read as "10 to the power 24," and written with 24 as a superscript?
    Proofed
    28th September 2021 at 09:24
    Hi, Julie. This would probably fall under "mathematics" in the list in the post, so you should use numerals for both the main number and the superscript exponent number.
J
13th October 2021 at 17:59
Which is correct: "The fish can be found four feet under the surface" or "4 feet under the surface"
    Proofed
    14th October 2021 at 10:15
    Hi, J. As the post explains, AP style recommends using numerals for measurements.
Judi Lykowski
15th November 2021 at 17:16
30 minute program ... or 20 minute program ... would 20 or 30 minute be hyphenated? From what I am reading in the AP StyleGuard scan - it would not be... however three-week session would be. Is this correct?
    Proofed
    16th November 2021 at 09:54
    Hi, Judi. The AP Stylebook doesn't have any definitive advice on hyphenation: broadly, it says, "If a hyphen makes the meaning clearer, use it. If it just adds clutter and distraction to the sentence, don't use it." It doesn't, to the best of my knowledge, have specific advice on hyphenating adjectival timespans, but it does include at least one example that hyphenates minutes (i.e., when discussing suspensive hyphenation, it uses the example “10-, 15- or 20-minute intervals”). On that basis, if in doubt, I’d suggest hyphenating the likes of “30-minute program" in AP style, but it is ultimately a matter of preference as long as your meaning is clear.
Siri
11th December 2021 at 17:57
How do you use numerals that are part of direct quotes? Like, "Only 12 days until Christmas," Santa said. Or is it: "Only twelve days until Christmas," Santa said.
    Proofed
    13th December 2021 at 11:05
    Hi, Siri. If you're referring to dialogue in general, especially fictional dialogue, like in your example, you would usually write out numbers as words unless there was a reason not to do so. In quotations of speech in AP style in particular, you would usually follow the conventions set out in this post in quotes as well as elsewhere. For quotations of written sources in AP style, I'd probably suggest reproducing the style in the quoted source unless there's a reason to change it.
Ashley
21st December 2021 at 18:47
I do a lot of copywriting for Amazon, which they don't want you to spell out any number. My question is separating two numbers with commas. For example: Comes with 10 15 lb bags. Is there a comma separating 10 and 15?
    Proofed
    4th January 2022 at 11:10
    Hi, Ashley. You wouldn't use a comma to separate two numbers unless they were in a list. In the example you give, the first thing I'd suggest is writing one number as a word even if this means bending the usual rules on whether to use words or numerals, since this will help to ensure clarity (i.e., "Comes with ten 15 lb. bags"). In addition, while I'm not sure which Amazon style guide you're using, this one suggests spelling out units of measurement rather than using abbreviations. As such, you might want to consider either "Comes with 10 15-pound bags" or "Comes with ten 15-pound bags." The hyphenated measurement here also helps to ensure clarity as it quickly shows the reader the difference between the two numbers in the sentence. Hope that helps.
Peter
14th February 2022 at 02:15
I read an article today, that mixed letters and numerals, based on using spelling up to nine. Is that the recommended approach? "Of the community cases, 768 are in Auckland, 21 in Northland, 82 in Waikato, 23 in Bay of Plenty, 12 in Lakes, five in Hawke’s Bay, five in MidCentral, one in Taranaki, six in Tairāwhiti, 12 in Wairarapa, six in Wellington, 14 in Hutt Valley, two in Nelson Marlborough, four in Canterbury, one in South Canterbury and 19 in Southern"
    Proofed
    14th February 2022 at 11:07
    Hi, Peter. AP style, as discussed in this post, does permit mixing numerals and words in a sentence or passage. Thus, if the publication in question uses AP style, then, yes, it would be the recommended approach. Other style guides can vary on this, though, with some suggesting that internal consistency is more important for readability.
M Taylor
16th February 2022 at 16:17
Is '11th annual acceptable?
    Proofed
    16th February 2022 at 16:29
    The phrasing '11th annual' would be fine in AP style since AP style recommends using numerals for any number over nine. There are exceptions, as noted in the post, but we'd need to know the context in which you're using the phrase to offer more specific advice. If you'd like an AP style expert to check your writing, though, you can always submit a document for proofreading.
Franck Dernoncourt
17th February 2022 at 22:15
Hi, thanks for the guide! I want to write a sentence with a similar structure as follows: > Alice bought 12 apples, 1 banana and 6 cantaloupes. Should the three numbers (12, 1 and 6) in the sentence be written with letters or digits? I understand from your guide that 12 should be written with letters and 1 as well as 6 should be written with digits, but wouldn't that look inconsistent? (The sentence is just an example, I'm interested for any context, e.g. in academic writing.)
    Proofed
    18th February 2022 at 10:04
    Hi, Franck. AP style allows you to mix words and numerals in the same sentence, so the correct version would be "Alice bought 12 apples, one banana and six cantaloupes." Other style guides suggest maintaining consistency within a sentence or paragraph where possible (i.e., using all words or all numerals for numbers of a similar type, depending on which is more appropriate and the specific style guide in question). As you mention academic writing, it may be worth checking which style guide your school recommends, since AP style is usually more common in business and journalistic writing.
Michele
9th March 2022 at 17:13
How do you write 10 to 30-year policy in AP style? Is it "10- to 30-year" or "10 to 30-year"?
    Proofed
    10th March 2022 at 09:19
    Hi, Michele. AP style requires that you give the full information on either side of the connector in ranges (with some exceptions for years). As a result, the correct form would be "10-year to 30-year policy.”
Willi
10th June 2022 at 03:54
How about numbers in titles? Which is preferred? 3 Social Security Benefits Explained or Three Social Security Benefits Explained
    Proofed
    10th June 2022 at 10:44
    Hi, Willi. AP style recommends using numerals in headlines, which would apply in place of the standard rules discussed in this post. We'll add something to the post to clarify this in case anyone else has the same question! Thanks for your comment.
David
15th June 2022 at 17:07
When writing about a sequence of events over several days, is the style, "On Day 5..." or, "On day five,"... or...? I have been unable to find guidance on this. Thank you !
    Proofed
    16th June 2022 at 09:15
    Hi, David. As we say in the post, AP style recommends writing numbers up to nine as words. It doesn't have any guidelines specifically related to sequences of days, so the correct form would be to write out day numbers up to nine (e.g., "On day one...," "On day two...") and then use numerals for any days after the tenth one (e.g., "On day 10...," "On day 1,483...," and so on).

Upload a document

Instant Quote

Need more help perfecting your writing?

Proofed has the perfect editor!

Instant Quote

Price

You can also upload a document to get an instant quote

Icon of cloud upload

Drag & drop your file

or browse your computer

Browse from your device

Icon of cloud upload

Drop your file here!

Icon of loading status

Your file is being
uploaded!

More Writing Tips?
Trusted by thousands of leading
institutions and businesses

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.