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I know you cannot start a sentence with a number written digitally (how do I say this?). For example I could not write:

2013 is almost over!

Can a quotation begin with a number, though?

For example, could I write

The man said, "2013 was the worst!"

or would I need to spell the year out?

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'I know you cannot start a sentence with a number written digitally.' Who says? –  Barrie England Dec 17 '13 at 20:00
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In fact you yourself just did. What is the problem with that? –  RegDwigнt Dec 17 '13 at 20:01
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"Gay marriage is wrong", "You cannot start a sentence with a number" - why willy-nilly create these arbitrary and baseless rules?? –  Blessed Geek Dec 17 '13 at 23:58
    
Starting a sentence with a numeral makes you run the risk of making it unclear where a sentence finishes and where a new one starts since there is no way of capitalizing numerals and a full stop not followed by a capital is not as clear a sign that you are moving from one sentence to the next as a full stop followed by a word beginning with a capital letter. Simple. For clarity's sake. –  user58319 Jan 4 at 23:51

2 Answers 2

Starting a (written) sentence with numerals is generally discouraged except when referring to a particular year (a quote would be considered in the same way as a sentence).

For information overload on this topic, see here.

Edited: See also here, here and here

I would add that another exception encountered in some sources pertains to decimals (e.g. 63.48% of American blog writers appear to be confused about the benefits of Obamacare.)

One exception that I have not seen but would not hesitate to use, if I could not, for some reason, rearrange the wording is an exceedingly large number. There is no chance that I would spell out 3,476,983,472.

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Maybe I am illiterate but I don't believe your source allows for the exception. –  Unrelated Dec 17 '13 at 21:18
    
@Unrelated, I think you are not illiterate, but only unrelated, no more no less. –  Elberich Schneider Dec 17 '13 at 21:41
    
But the proviso at the beginning of the advice given at the link is 'The advice proffered here is meant primarily for standard academic prose. Business and technical writing sometimes goes by a different set of standards, and writers of those kinds of text should consult a manual dedicated to those standards.' So your quote is selectively skewed and hence a misquote. The only near-sensible rather than petty reason I can think of for the recommendation to avoid numerals at the start of a sentence is that there is no capitalised sentence marker. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 17 '13 at 22:31
    
This thread argues that even accurately quoted excerpts presented out of vital context can be termed misquotes. They're certainly dangerous. There are many examples of sentences starting with numerals on the internet, in newspapers etc; this seems to cause few problems. Except to legalists. (And most of the discussions on this site seem to be targeted at correcting poor teaching, sacred cows - Addisonian Termination, mandatory singular after none, 'split infinitives', mandatory nominative after be being just a few. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 17 '13 at 23:46
    
(1) I was commenting on the argument 'I have been taught that . . .' not your particular views on the topics I mentioned. I can see no place where I accused you of any of the four prescriptivisms I mentioned. (2) I'm glad to see that you've added more and more generally applicable linked articles to bolster your answer. However, I felt it was appropriate to add balance, in the answer I add (which is selectively anti-'Don't normally start writing a sentence with a number expressed in numerals'). (Which fact I mention.) –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 18 '13 at 9:54

I've found some support for my take on this issue:

Originally Posted by DecemberQuinn on AbsoluteWrite, in answer to the query:

I've recently been told it's wrong to start a sentence with numerals; i.e. "5235 Western Road was a big blue house...

I've never heard this rule before--it sounds silly to me . . . [is it actually a rule at all?]"

.........

Silly, arbitrary, whatever--it's an old rule listed in my most ancient grammar book and still alive and well today.

One finds, in response to a further comment in this thread:

You're a victim of someone who read something like the "Associated Press Stylebook" and mistook it for a universal authority. It's not.

The issue you bring up is a style issue -- NOT a matter of right and wrong. And writers aren't really responsible for knowing style.

Yes, most publications/publishers eschew numerals at the start of sentences (with some exceptions)...

If I were you, I would take a very broad and oversimplied [sic] approach to the "Chicago Manual of Style." (Bear in mind that Chicago has a WHOLE CHAPTER full of rules[,] and exceptions to the rules[,] and exceptions to the exceptions -- just on when to write numerals or spell out numbers. Nobody expects writers to know them all.)

  • In the future, take every bit of grammar/punctuation/style advice with a grain of salt. Style books disagree. They disagree on style matters, which exist purely for consistency's sake.

P.S. DON'T listen to the Elements of Style. That was a style guide for one college professor's classroom a hundred years ago. Some of its wisdom still applies today. But it's not an official style guide that publishers follow today.

Again, in this thread at UsingEnglish.com:

Can we start a sentence with a number as in the sentence: '2010 will be a crucial year in the history of Singapore with the next general election most likely held sometime either in the middle of the year or towards the end,' or should we write "The year, 2010, will..."?

......

You can start with a numeral, and the context should tell you what the numeral relates to. In this case a new year.

Grammar-Monster (Susan's second link) has:

For neatness, try to avoid starting sentences with figures. However, if the number at the start of your sentence has a decimal point and you cannot reword the sentence, just leave it as it is. . . . If a number contains a decimal point, just leave it as it is. The "fix" is worse than the "fault."

Susan herself recommends

One exception that I have not seen but would not hesitate to use, if I could not, for some reason, rearrange the wording is an exceedingly large number.

A sensible, if arbitrary (on two counts), rule of thumb. I'm quite happy to accept the beginning of a sentence with any numeral; I might have once considered it 'untidy' myself, but can find no logical reason for this way of feeling. The effect of legalistic teachers, in all likelihood.

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but i looks so gross! –  Unrelated Dec 18 '13 at 18:05
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It doesn't warrant your 'I know you cannot start a sentence with a number written digitally [using numerals]' though. And subjective opinions without data to back them up are close to being off-topic. I don't like tomatoes, but I don't tell other people they mustn't eat them. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 18 '13 at 20:50
    
im just shocked that this it isnt a standard view. ive never seen anyone start a sentence with numerals. suppose my world is too academic. thanks for the belittling @edwinashworth, you really how to welcome someone –  Unrelated Dec 19 '13 at 9:44
    
How can one say 'Please don't write opinions as if they were undisputed fact, and always add references to back up your claims, as is indicated in the site rules' without potentially offending? Dogmatic assertions when wrong (or even unproven) are misleading and not what this site is about. You're welcome to ask relevant questions, of course – and chip in with opinions labelled as such. That is what this site is about. On a different matter, I see Robusto edited your question. May I suggest you check about standard grammar and punctuation at the sister site ELL? –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 19 '13 at 10:06
    
Here is a modern and sensible take (by 'Gwan') on the original question: "It's fine to use a number to begin a sentence, but some formal style guides advise that you should write the number out in words. If you are writing an academic essay, for example, it might be better to rephrase it altogether as it's a bit awkward to write out 'sixty-three point nine percent'. Otherwise, I wouldn't worry about the 'rule'." –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 19 '13 at 10:09

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