22

In contracts numbers are usually written twice: in numerical and literal form.

I understand the vast majority of text in a typical contract can be safely deleted without impacting the core message due to the typical insane amount of repetition and unnecessary verboseness, but I don't really understand what's the point of writing some (not even all) numbers twice.

For example:

You agree to these Terms of Use on behalf of yourself and, at your discretion, for one (1) minor child for whom you are a parent or guardian and whom you have authorized to use the account you create on the Service.

It's very inconsistent, sometimes they appear in only numerical form:

[...] WOULD CONSTITUTE A VIOLATION OF SECTIONS 1, 2 OR 9.

Sometimes only literal:

[...] includes two components [...]

  • 7
    Seems like more of a legal question than a grammar question. – JohnFx Aug 29 '10 at 19:23
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    plus one (+1): good question – b.roth Aug 29 '10 at 23:19
  • I once received a piece of computer library code from someone who had written, in all the comments, things like: "This takes one (1) argument." and "The tree now has three (3) members". – delete Aug 30 '10 at 1:17
  • Oh yes there was an example here too: english.stackexchange.com/questions/1858/couple-vs-few/… – delete Aug 31 '10 at 2:31
  • " understand the vast majority of text in a typical contract can be safely deleted without impacting the core message due to the typical insane amount of repetition and unnecessary verboseness" - wrong. it is not English, it is "legalese", and for a contract to be legally binding in all the correct ways it usually does have to say all those things. – Claudiu Dec 14 '10 at 19:45
14

Its done to make any tempering with the document difficult. Maybe one can change the number in one place but it wont be easy reflecting the change in the other representation

  • Yes, this is absolutely right. In a contract, key numbers that are absolutely essential to the agreement will generally be written out and printed in numeral form too (eg, the unit price of goods that have been ordered and will be manufactured, or in this case the 'one (1) minor' who is to be covered by the terms and conditions). The numbers denoting sections of Acts will not be written out, as they're not a 'key' clause that anyone is likely to amend/tamper with in a contract. – Kiloran_speaking Jul 13 '17 at 18:44
  • I don't disagree at all with your answer, though i would like to add that is a really non-safe way to protect a document from tampering, given all the cryptography and knowledge we know count with today. – Santropedro Dec 23 '17 at 21:05
7

Checks (bank drafts) have the transaction amount written twice: once in numerals and once spelled out. The numerals are the "convenience amount" and the words are the "legal amount" in banking parlance. When they don't agree, the legal amount trumps the convenience amount on the theory that it's harder to tamper with the words than the digits. (This applies in the U.S. I don't know if the terminology and rules are the same elsewhere.)

I assume the same rules apply to contracts.

5

An important point that's missing from other answers, is that this prevents a specific form of ambiguity, where a number can also be a noun.

In the UK, there is a mobile telephone provider called "Three," knowing this, the two following statements could be interpreted very differently.

The project team will be provided with three mobile telephone contracts for the duration of the project

and

The project team will be provided with three (3) mobile telephone contracts for the duration of the project.

If the project team is made up for several hundred people, this could be a significant difference. As we know that a number written out, and then followed by itself in brackets means a quantity (by convention) we have no ambiguity in the second example. You may argue that if we mean 'Three Mobile' then it should be capitalised, but that is a lot less clear-cut than the latter.

The same issue arises when referring to years. If a contract states:

The winners will receive 2020 World Cup footballs

it is clear by convention that 2020 is a noun, not an adjective; and that I don't mean:

The winners will receive two-thousand and twenty (2020) World Cup footballs.

3

It's done to reduce the chances that something might be interpreted ambiguously. That and attorneys are paid (effectively) by the word. Another place you will see this duplication is for the amount written on a check. It's done for the same reason.

As to why it's not consistent, I have no idea.

  • How can "1, 2, 3"... or "one, two, three" be interpreted ambiguously? What do you mean? – b.roth Aug 29 '10 at 23:15
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    on a cheque it's duplicated to avoid fraud, not (only) to reduce ambiguity or misunderstanding. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 30 '10 at 16:56
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    Additionally, on a check, the amount written in words is the legal amount. As mentioned, the numeral form is included for convenience and fraud prevention. IIRC, only cardinal numbers are written twice like that, while ordinal numbers are not. In the case of referencing a part of the document with many levels of hierarchy, that kind of redundancy would be more confusing instead of less. – waymost Aug 30 '10 at 18:22
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    @Bruno: When contracts are parsed down to the comma, it's amazing what can be interpreted ambiguously. Slightly off topic, but I had heard that someone who was primarily a Spanish-speaker overdosed on some medication because the instructions were to take it once daily (eleven in Spanish). It's probably apocryphal, but a redundant numeral form might have prevented the accident. – Dennis Williamson Aug 30 '10 at 22:33
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    On the subject of checks, see money.stackexchange.com/questions/3278/…. – mmyers Sep 1 '10 at 17:33
3

I do this in almost all of my writing, even emails, and I do it so that it's easier to scan the document and see the numbers. It's just one of the techniques I use to make my writing easier to read. In a multiline paragraph it is easy to miss the one and the two and the three but it's a lot more difficult to miss the one (1) and the two (2) and the three (3). I'm no expert on English even though I am a native speak (at my university we would commonly self-identify with the phrase "I are an en-ga-neer!") but I have extensive experience in written communication and there are many things I've learned to do that make it easier to communicate, such as:

Use of Headings to Denote Sections

  • Use bullet points to delineate multiple points,

  • Use of many paragraphs with lots of white space also to improve ability to be read by scanning,

  • Bolding of certain phrases for emphasis,

  • And of course writing numbers twice (2x) so they are more easily seen.

Note I wrote the above paragraph long to emphasize the point, not because it was clearer.

So in summary I've no idea if it is correct or not, but I personally do it for clarity to help the reader.

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 25 '11 at 11:34

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