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I understand that it's common to spell small numbers in words. However, all examples of this rule I could find use cardinals (i.e. expressing the size of a set of entities) like in:

  • We met two cats and seven dogs.
  • She has been driving for six hours.

My question is to what degree does this rule apply when one writes numbers as nouns rather than numerals? That is, which is the most 'correct':

  • He chose the number 2.
  • He chose the number two.
  • He chose the number 'two'.
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3 Answers

It's a matter of style. Most writers spell out numbers under 10 and use numerals for the number 10 and above. But this is not the whole story. According to The AP Style, always spell out a number that begins a sentence except for years. The same source goes on to say that numerals should be used for the following:

  • Ages
  • Days of the month
  • Degrees of temperature
  • Dimensions
  • House numerals
  • Percentages
  • Proportions
  • Scores
  • Serial Numbers
  • Speeds
  • Sums of money
  • Time of day
  • Time of races
  • Votes
  • Years
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I, too, have always followed the AP style guide on this matter. –  New Alexandria Jul 22 '12 at 14:29
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I've learned that you spell out a number if the sentence only contains one number, or the sentence starts with a number.

I think the AP Style guide has the most complete list of exceptions to this rule.

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I would consider the context in which the numbers were chosen. If the person made his selection by pointing at e.g. a square on a craps table or other printed collection of numbers, I would use the form used in the collection, probably in quotes (thus, "He pointed at the '2'" or "He picked the 'six'" [most numbers on a craps table use numerals, but "six" and "nine" use words]). If the person was asked to select one of three doors, I would probably say "the person selected door number two". If he was asked to choose an arbitrary number, I would say "he chose 2". To say "he chose two" would suggest he made a double selection, and to say "he chose the number two" could be misinterpreted, at least initially, as saying he chose the second of something.

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