Plurals and Punctuation of Numbers
The plural forms of numbers expressed as words do not use an apostrophe; instead, they are formed just as other plurals are by adding an ‘s’ or ‘es’ (‘sixes and sevens’) or by changing a ‘y’ to an ‘i’ before adding the ‘es’ (‘seventies’, ‘eighties’, etc.). ‘Dozen’, ‘hundred’, ‘thousand’, ‘million’, ‘billion’ and ‘trillion’ tend to remain singular, however (e.g., ‘four thousand’, ‘eight million’, etc.), unless they express indefinite quantities (as in ‘dozens of icebergs’ or ‘hundreds of birds’).
Abbreviated measures that appear with numerals are not pluralised, and in most cases there should be a space between the numeral and the abbreviation (e.g., ‘44 cm’, ‘12 kg’ and ‘20 °C’). When numerals are associated with other letters, however, there is usually no space between the numerals and the letters (as in ‘pp. 33ff’ and ‘Question 2a’).
When compound numbers are written as words, they are hyphenated (‘twenty-four’, ‘seventy-ninth’, etc.) and the same is usually true of fractions (such as ‘one-quarter’ and ‘two-thirds’), although fractions can be left open, especially when the text focuses on the number or individual parts of a quantity (e.g., ‘he gave one third of the pie to his friend and another third to his brother’).
When large numbers are expressed as Arabic numerals, a comma is generally used after the third digit counting from right to left (‘4,578’, ‘67,512’, etc.), but in some cases the comma is not used in four-digit numerals (‘4578’). In technical and scientific writing, the commas often do not appear, but spaces are used instead (‘4 578’, ‘67 512’, etc.), though four-digit numerals do not always feature the space (‘4578’). The same principle applies to digits after the decimal point: after three digits counting from left to right, a space is often used (‘17.239 8’, ‘5.349 65’, etc.), but not always if there are only four digits after the decimal (‘17.2398’).
The choices involved in expressing numbers effectively in formal English can be complicated, yet accuracy and consistency are essential to clear professional communication, as well as to the meaningful analysis of numerical data, so checking and rechecking the format of numbers should always be an important part of preparing a piece of academic or scientific writing for publication. Fortunately, the proofreaders at PRS are experienced in the formatting of numbers and all other elements of scholarly writing, and we are always delighted to help you polish your work to perfection.
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