Numbers spelled out or digits?


If I were to guess, I’d assume most people don’t care, but I like receiving input from players and others’ opinions. In dialogue, do you think numbers look better spelled out or numerical? What have other CoG games done and did it look good or bad?
For instance, what if the game read:

The elephant pondered for a moment, “I will give you 300 peanuts.”

The elephant pondered for a moment, “I will give you three-hundred peanuts.”

Which looks better in your opinion?


I’ve actually got a very inelegant bit code for this that I keep intending to redo (I did it the wrong way around when I first wrote it and so it was a lot more effort than necessary).


As long as you are consistent, it will read o.k. either way. My issue as a writer is inconsistency and that is just bad habit that bites my butt.


I prefer digits simply because I find them easier to read and less of a mind-boggle (both for the players as well the author). Can you imagine if you had to spell out a number like 91.354.567.032? It would pratically require a single paragraph just for it… Plus I would be pretty bummed out if a game was promised to have 100k words but later revealed that 1/4 of it were actually just numbers writen by extense.


If you write it as digits people will read it like a whole number. So they’ll read three hundred every time. I prefer it spelt out because then you can add little things to make it different. One character might say three hundy, or three-oh-oh, or three-double-oh, or tree hundred, or whatever. With the numerical way, every character ends up saying numbers the same exact way.

But that’s what I prefer. In the end, do whatever you prefer. No one’s gonna sue.


The guideline I’m used to and prefer is to spell out smaller numbers and use numerals for larger ones. Not sure the exact threshold. But expressions like “She divided the loot in 4” just look odd to me, while spelling out longer numbers gets cumbersome.


In my middle school, my English teacher taught that numbers below one hundred should be written using arabic numerals (1, 2, 3…) while anything higher than 99 should be written out. No clue where she got that ‘rule,’ since it feels so arbitrary…


I got told to do something similarly odd - write out my numbers until I hit ten and everything above that was meant to be numerals. I honestly don’t know what difference its meant to make but it seemed very important to my teacher so I just rolled with it.


As someone who is generally math-minded, it took me a looooong time to realize just how arbitrary the English ‘rules’ I had been taught were. I definitely got frustrated in my first college Composition class when I started getting graded by a completely different set of grammatical rules, and realized that I would apparently have to learn each teacher’s writing style preferences before I could write a paper that didn’t get any marks against it for grammar.


@DJ_Harshman Yes, all English literature teachers place emphasis on different rules and sometimes even make up their own and it is very frustrating. I am about to take my final English class in college and since I have recently started to enjoy writing and become a more proficient author I look forward to arguing with him/her.

Back on topic: I believe most people are taught to spell out numbers less than 10, but as @Eiwynn pointed out, should consistency be more important? That’s why I was curious about what other authors have done. It is a pet-peeve of mine when CoG games don’t end their choices with punctuation, as it CLEARLY OUTLINES IN THE CoG GUIDLINES… Sorry, got a little heated there… and I’m afraid I will get similar criticisms bashing my numbers. Haha


So am I the only person who finds it to look odd if I see something like “the log split in 2.”? Genuinely curious here, because that sentence would really stand out to me. I think it’s because a number like two fits in a sentence differently, more like a part of a basic expression where the fact that it’s a number doesn’t stick out the same way. They’d be used distinctly as parts of speech, too… think how it’d be more awkward to say “the log split in 652,” but rather it’d sound more normal to say “652 pieces.” Even in spoken language, the numbers don’t get conceptualized the same way.

But I really wouldn’t say it’s inconsistent to have the size threshold as a determinant… that’s just applying that style consistently.

I’m sure a lot of this is just imprinting on what I’m used to seeing, naturally.


Ooh, a chance to be technical. I love getting technical about these sorts of questions.

So, most style guides have a specific guideline for numbers, and it varies by field (fiction versus journalism versus scientific writing), and by region, and by tradition. Oxford University Press’s house style guide says certain fields (law, social sciences, and humanities, if I recall), spell out numbers ninety-nine and below, and use figures from 100 onwards. For fiction, ten is spelled, 11 is written with numerals.

Then, The Chicago Manual of Style has numbers up to 100 spelled out OR numbers up to 10, publisher’s choice, and numbers ninety-nine (or nine) and below written, with exceptions for situations like “They donated 102 buttons and seventy-six spools of thread” where one can choose to write out or use numerals for both, for consistency’s sake.

And I’m sure there are exceptions, but every English-language style guide I’ve used has hyphens only used between twenty-six, thirty-one, and the like, and no-where else within spelling out numbers. (Maybe that’s why some style guides allow for numbers spelled out up to ninety-nine; where we would get to use the hyphenation rule if we stopped at ten or twelve?)

There is even a certain amount of logic for the use of ten, twelve, and one hundred as the cap for when to switch to numerals. The thinking with choosing one hundred as a cap has to do with saving space and our using a decimal numeric system. “The log split in two” does often seem more organic, but “there were 1,265,978 grains of wheat in the sack” is much better than “there were one million, two hundred sixty-five thousand, nine hundred seventy-eight grains of wheat”. That’s also the logic behind spelling ‘a million’; it’s shorter than writing out 1,000,000 and may be easier on the reader’s eyes.

The traditional logic for spelling out numbers up to ten is a bit odder, so I thought it deserved a mention. A lot of systems in the English language for dealing with numerals have to do with a long-running idea that ten (or sometimes twelve) felt ‘natural’ to early man. Ten fingers, or sometimes one sees quantities of twelve if one counts both hands and thus progresses a bit further. (Some people also use this explanation to explain why we have a specific word for ‘one dozen’, but I’m not sure how legitimate that explanation is and I’ve never researched it myself.)

Since even ancient Babylonians used something very much like early modern calculus equations to calculate their star charts, this ‘ten fingers’ explanation doesn’t necessarily convince me. Mesopotamians used base sixty and very seldom wrote out names of numbers rather than using digits…But still, that ten/twelve threshold affects a lot of modern thinking about numbers and their integration into daily life.

I’m a bit surprised to hear this. The universities that I’m familiar with all have a style guide assigned to various departments, and grading on grammar has more to do with how well one conforms to the style guide, not how whimsical one’s teacher is feeling about Oxford commas. And of course you can then petition if you’ve received poor marks due to grammar but you’ve been following the style guide correctly. Another reason why style guides are useful!


I’ve never had the pleasure of having an instructor stick to a universal style guide, only formatting styles. AND 9 times out of 10 student aids are the ones grading the papers; they are relentless. My recent post about commas was made in regards to these concerns.

“d log split n 2.” U mean u dun lik readin stuff lik this? lol

Yeah, I definitely agree, @TSSL. I think it depends on where you’re placing the emphasis. Are you placing it on the number or the size? We say, “The log split in two,” and assume it must be a 50/50 split, but more than that and it becomes questionable. Usually we would say something like, “It split into three pieces,” not, “It split in three.” You could, but I think the unit, “pieces” gives the reader some kind of comfort in knowing that it is the log splitting and it is splitting into 3 roughly equal units.


The fact that cuneiform’s not really alphabetic probably has an effect there. They’d have a whole bunch of symbols representing whole words and/or syllables, so the numerals would stand out less. Also probably significant that early cuneiform derives from account keeping, so this is a more fundamental part of the script.

And yeah, thanks for the big chunk of info; useful reference :slight_smile:


This is not necessarily so. Cuneiform (depending on the language and era) was indeed alphabetic. One can actually transliterate English into cuneiform using the Akkadian (Babylonian) system.


Not solely alphabetic, I mean. :slight_smile:

(I realize we aren’t 100% either, but there are degrees, yes?)


I thought you were talking about math logarithms at first. :smile:

@Boomjuice :grinning:

Back on topic, I don’t care about consistency. Time, money, or decimals are easier to write out numerically-$1.22. Large numbers are easier to read numerically-4468753489. Expressions are better written out like she cut the pizza into fourths instead of 1/4ths. Dates are better with words January fith or 5th instead of 1/5.


But…in this instance, a date is an ordinal number, not a fraction (if you’ll forgive my editor brain), so one oughtn’t to use January 1/5 anyhow. Although ‘1/5 of January’ would be correct, but it would mean something rather different.

And fascinatingly, in some style guides, one uses two thirds of a jar of jam, but a person was elected by a two-thirds majority vote (fraction as opposed to adjective). Others do recommend hyphens for both.


I was saying 1/5/2017 like a date which I can have slash or hyphen (Which could be considered to be May for some people) and not a fraction of January.


Oh, of course! Sorry. I’m used to dates with hyphens. That makes sense.

I have mild numbers dyslexia and I’ve lived in places that are both ways (and to make it even better, my two daughters’ birthdays are the reverse of each other), so I’ve taken to writing out 5 Jan on everything just to make sure. (Now, if I could just learn to write 2017 before February…)