Grammar Happy: How to dish out the digits

25.01.16 Grammar Happy, calculator on desk, numbers

We turn to our media bible, the AP Stylebook, to learn how to present the numbers after we’ve crunched them.

The general rule is to spell out numbers one through nine. After that, use numerical figures for 10 and above.

It sounds pretty straightforward, but as always, there are exceptions:


Use numbers for dates. So it’s February 4, not February four, February 4th or February fourth.

Do not separate months and years with a comma: “I graduated from college in August 2001.”

Do set off years with commas where there is a specific date: “I bought my first car on August 14, 2001.”

If a sentence or headline begins with a year, use numerical figures. Otherwise, a sentence that begins with a number should be spelt out: “Ten thousand people attended yesterday’s protest.”

One of my pet peeves: Add an ‘s’ without an apostrophe to a decade to make it plural: “1980s”. You only use an apostrophe on a decade if you cut off the initial figures. Calvin Harris was born in the ‘80s, not the 80’s.


For time, use lowercase ‘am’ and ‘pm’ and always use figures. “I start work at 9 am.” The style guide does not include two zeros for even hours.

If a time range is entirely in the morning or evening, use am or pm only once: “6.30-10 pm”. If it goes from morning to evening, use both: “10 am-3 pm”.

More tips

With the exception of years and addresses, use commas to set off each group of three digits higher than 999: “15,400”.

Numbers in addresses are written as figures: “8 Greenmount Park.” Percentages are written as figures as well: “5 percent.” Same goes for motorways, “M50”, and speed, “120 kmph”.

According to the AP guide, when referencing ages you should always use figures. “I am 23 years old.” Use hyphens for ages that are expressed as adjectives before a noun: “He is a 23-year-old man.” Use hyphens as substitutes for a noun too. “This club is for 23-year-olds.”

Use decimals up to two places for amounts in millions and billions: €4.56 million. Oh, and write “million” and “billion”.

Learn more about practical writing techniques at our upcoming masterclass in press release writing.

Conor – @conormcmahon