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In writing out a sentence with a parenthetical number, it occurred to me that it is a bit difficult to read. Is there a better way? (Yes, this is a bit of a contrived example and yes, I realize it could be reworded to take away the awkwardness, but it illustrates my question)

The database contains a lot of records, nearly 300,000, per month.

When I read this sentence, my eyes do a double-take at the end of "300,000," to comprehend the meaning because with the comma I'm expecting another triplet of digits.

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There's two other ways of adding asides that are almost entirely interchangeable with commas: m-dashes or parentheses. Using your example they'd be:

  • The database contains a lot of records--nearly 300,000--per month.
  • The database contains a lot of records (nearly 300,000) per month.

The meaning is the same, but the punctuation is less confusing.

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    The more modern way (if I can remember that far back) to show large numbers is blank spaces between the stanzas. Thus 300 000 – Edwin Ashworth Aug 24 '15 at 16:18
  • The "per month" is part of the "300,000," so it should be within the aside: ...(nearly 300,000 per month). – VampDuc Aug 24 '15 at 17:19
  • @VampDuc: if that were the case the problem posed would not exist. Just leave out the comma following the final triplet of zeroes. – Paul Drye Aug 24 '15 at 17:21
  • @PaulDrye Ah, I've reread now (cup of coffee #3 has finally kicked in). However, the original sentence doesn't really make much sense. A database doesn't really contain records per month. And, in my opinion, I didn't find the original confusing at all, but I'm used to reading and writing statistical documents. – VampDuc Aug 24 '15 at 17:26
  • @VampDuc Sorry about the awkward example - it's work related, so I had to sanitize it and that was the first thing to pop into my head. Hopefully it still manages to communicate the problem to future StackExchange searchers! – Blackhawk Aug 28 '15 at 13:14
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You can work around the problem by writing "three hundred thousand", in words.

If it were up to me, though, I would work around the problem by either using a space as a thousands separator (like this: "300 000"), or by omitting the thousands separator altogether (like this: "300000").

In general, I don't feel that thousands separators are obligatory. After all, your car's odometer doesn't have one, and you almost certainly don't miss it.

  • Taking your car's odometer for an example doesn't sound convincing. You don't need it because it's neither confusing nor that difficult to read in the first place. More importantly, it will cost more to put a separator in a car. – user140086 Dec 13 '16 at 8:42

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