Percent, Per Cent and Percentages
  • 2-minute read
  • 26th March 2018

Percent, Per Cent and Percentages

We’ve been told that putting 110% into anything is mathematically impossible. But we’re proofreaders, not mathematicians! As such, we’re not going to let math get in the way of putting everything we have into solving your writing problems. Today, for example, we’re looking at writing percentages.

Words and Numbers

As with any numbers, percentages can be written as either words or numbers:

Words: Around nine percent of people dislike coffee.

Numbers: Approximately 91% of people like coffee.

The examples above reflect three important guidelines when writing percentages:

  • Numbers up to ten are usually written as words, while larger numbers are written as numerals
  • When a percentage is written as a word, it should be followed by “percent”
  • When a percentage is written as a numeral, it should be followed by the “%” sign

However, this can vary depending on the context (e.g., measurements in scientific writing are almost always written as numerals, even for numbers under ten). It’s therefore a good idea to check your style guide for advice on how to write percentages.

Percent vs. Per Cent

The question we’re asked most often about writing percentages is whether to use “percent” or “per cent.” Ultimately, though, this doesn’t really matter: both are accepted spellings of this term.

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Again, we recommend checking your style guide if you have one, as some publishers and colleges have a preference. And “percent” is much more common these days than “per cent.” But other than that, the main thing is picking one spelling and using it consistently throughout your work.

Percent vs. per cent

When to Use “Percentage”

Finally, we have the word “percentage.” Although similar to “percent,” this word has a slightly different usage: “Percent” is used with specific numbers, while “percentage” is used when referring to a general or non-specific amount of something. For example:

A small percentage of the forms were coffee stained.

Almost seven percent of the forms were coffee stained.

As shown above, you should use “percentage” when the exact amount is unspecified.

Comments (20)
Botha Ellis
7th April 2020 at 16:13
Thanks, but how will I write 5.6% in words?
    Proofed
    8th April 2020 at 10:32
    Hi, Botha. As a rule, decimal numbers are written as numerals, though you could write "five point six percent" if you needed to.
Alex Martin
31st July 2020 at 16:36
was very useful...thanks for helping out...
haifa albassam
6th October 2020 at 22:37
Is this sentence correct? "the highest responses is 65%" I'm confused should I write are or is?
    Proofed
    8th October 2020 at 09:12
    Hi, Haifa. It would be either "the highest response is 65%" or "the highest responses are 65%," depending on whether "response" is singular or plural. If you'd like any more help with your writing, our proofreaders are always available: https://proofed.com/free-proofreading-and-editing-sample/
Rajendra
11th October 2020 at 04:19
Helpful Interesting
Nicole
14th May 2021 at 23:56
What about for a range, for example, 30 to 50%? Or is it, 30% to 50%?
    Proofed
    19th May 2021 at 09:25
    Hi, Nicole. If you're using the percent sign rather than the word "percent," most style guides would probably say to repeat it (although that is usually in the context of a closed range indicated with a dash, such as "30%–50%"; some, including Chicago style, suggest not repeating symbols in ranges when they are spaced, so that might mean writing "30 to 50%" if you were sticking to the phrasing from your original comment). Ultimately, unless you are using a specific style guide, the main thing to consider is clarity.
Kristine
13th October 2021 at 20:56
Which is correct: I own Fifty (50%) Percent of the stock or I own Fifty Percent (50%) of the stock?
    Proofed
    14th October 2021 at 10:20
    Hi, Kristine. Assuming you're asking how to give the percentage as a numeral in brackets after giving it in words in the main text, the correct version would be "I own fifty percent (50%) of the stock" (i.e., the bracketed version comes after the full term, and there's no need to capitalize either "fifty" or "percent").
Hari
8th November 2021 at 04:22
Which one of the following is correct in scientific paper writing? 1. Maize and rice cover 120 ha (60%) and 80 ha (40%) areas in village A respectively. 2. Maize and rice cover 60% (120 ha) and 40% (80 ha) areas in village A respectively.
    Proofed
    9th November 2021 at 12:35
    Hi, Hari. If you're asking about whether to put the measurement or percentage in brackets, that would be your choice (unless you're using a style guide that suggests one method in particular). You might want to consider which figure is more relevant in context and put that one in the main text, though.
Shannon Beardmore
15th December 2021 at 23:10
how would I write out 6.56%, 83.13% and 10.31% - I am stumped
    Proofed
    17th December 2021 at 14:25
    Hi, Shannon. What exactly is it that you're stumped on? Those percentages look fine as they are to me. You could, of course, attempt to write them out in full as words (e.g., saying "six point five six percent" rather than "6.56%"). But it's generally best to use numerals for numbers that include a decimal point since it is clearer (and every major style guide I can think of would recommend using numerals in such cases). You could also mix numerals with the word "percent" if preferred (e.g., saying "83.13 per cent"), which would be broadly fine since it is clear enough to read. But unless you have a reason for avoiding the percent symbol, such as using a style guide that recommends writing it out in words, "6.56%," "83.13%," and "10.31%" should be fine in most cases.
      Ily
      6th March 2022 at 15:22
      Hi! There is something that I can't find on the web, you probably may help me on it: I think i have the question as Shannon Beardmore which is '6.56% must be read six point five six percent, but why can't we tell six point fifty-six percent?' After all, we got 56 right there, not ONLY 5 or 6, so why the hell people are used to spell 6.56 ' six point five six'??
      Proofed
      7th March 2022 at 10:33
      Hi, Ily. The basic answer to this is that the digits in question represent different things. In the number "56," for example, the "5" represents the number of tens and the "6" represents individual "units," which together make up the number 56/fifty-six. But in "6.56," since the decimal part is less than a single unit, the "5" represents tenths and the "6" represents hundredths, so "point fifty-six" wouldn't accurately capture the values that the digits represent. As a result, the convention is to pronounce decimal numbers individually. Hope that clarifies things slightly!
Mark
31st December 2021 at 11:32
Hi, How would you write a percentage that you want to express as being in excess of ... say you want to indicate that the price of the stock rose by over 50%. Do you write 50%+ or 50+%?
    Proofed
    4th January 2022 at 11:37
    Hi, Mark. I don't think there are any hard guidelines on how to use the "+" symbol in that context, so clarity is probably the main factor, and as long as your readers will know what you mean, you can probably use either "50%+" or "50+%," although "50%+" feels clearer to me. However, to help ensure clarity, I would probably suggest simply saying "more than 50%" or "over 50%." You could also consider using the "greater than" symbol if you wanted to avoid using words for whatever reason (e.g., "Prices of stocks rose by > 50%").
Iuliia Petelina
22nd June 2022 at 18:44
Hi, how would you write: with or without the article "the " in the following phrase; 56% of the respondents choose to stay at home at the weekend or 56 % of respondents choose to stay at home. How should we use the article with such % phrases? Or areboth variants possible ? Thanks in advance
    Proofed
    23rd June 2022 at 10:04
    Hi, Iuliia. Either "56% of the respondents choose to stay at home at the weekend" or "56% of respondents choose to stay at home at the weekend" should be fine, although you may want to include "the" to make it absolutely clear you're referring to a specific group of people and not "respondents" in general as a concept (typically, the context will make it clear enough that you're referring to a particular set of respondents, but without knowing more about how and where you're using the term, it is hard to be certain). The fact it is a percentage doesn't really make a difference here either way. Hope that helps.

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