Writing Tips: Starting a Sentence with a Number
  • 2-minute read
  • 15th June 2020

Writing Tips: Starting a Sentence with a Number

Most people write numbers up to ten as words (e.g., one, two, three) and larger numbers as numerals (e.g., 98, 204). However, there are also special rules for starting a sentence with a number. In this post, then, we will look at how to write numbers at the start of a sentence.

Starting a Sentence with a Number

You would usually write larger numbers as numerals in formal writing:

The study examined 23 subjects.

However, at the start of a sentence, all numbers should be written as words:

12 participants reported muscle pain.

Twelve participants reported muscle pain.

This will read far more smoothly. The same applies for percentages:

63 per cent of the class passed the exam.

Sixty-three per cent of the class passed the exam.

However, there are some cases where writing numbers as words is impractical. We’ll look at some of these (and how to handle them) below.

Complex Numbers

While you should not begin a sentence with numerals, some complex numbers become hard to read when they are written out in full. As a result, you may want to rephrase the sentence instead.

This includes some larger numbers:

13,398 people voted in the district.

Thirteen thousand three hundred and ninety-eight voted in the district.

Records show 13,398 people voted in this district.

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Fractions that include complex numbers:

17/24 of the participants were women.

Seventeen twenty-fourths of the participants were women.

Women accounted for 17/24 of the participants.

And numbers with a decimal point:

3.5 people on average reported positive results.

Three point five people on average reported positive results. 

On average, 3.5 people reported positive results.

In all these examples, rephrasing the sentence so that it does not begin with a number helps to ensure clarity. However, it is fine to write round numbers and simple fractions as words at the start of a sentence:

Forty million people watched the live broadcast.

Two thirds of the class were late.

Style Guide Variations

Our guidelines for starting a sentence with a number should apply in most cases. However, some style guides have different requirements for writing numbers, so make sure to check yours if you are using one.

And if you’d like an expert editor to check your writing is error free, we have proofreaders available 24/7. Just let us know how we can help!

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