Articles before percentages earned?

When writing about grades, does the percentage need an article? "Jenny earned an 87% in the AP Psychology course." Or just "Jenny earned 87% in the AP Psychology course." My thinking is, you would use an article if you used the letter grade. "Jenny earned a B in the AP Psychology course."

Your help is appreciated.

• Normally it would be "Jenny earned an 87 in the course" or "Jenny scored 87% in the course." – Hot Licks Jan 25 '16 at 3:43
• No. There would be no article. The percentage is not a specific milestone such as a "passing percentage," but a discrete element of a continuous measure. As you know, we use articles with objects, not with quantities. – Kris Jun 23 '16 at 13:54
• @HotLicks Perhaps, but why do you think it is? – Kris Jun 23 '16 at 13:55
• @Kris “As you know, we use articles with objects, not with quantities” is utter nonsense. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 22 '16 at 12:01

There is a dilemma here regarding perception. What is a percentage in terms of how it is used in school grades?

To the technically trained, percentages are merely a notational convenience. As such, whether or not to use an article is unaffected by percent notation. The issue lies in the nature of the quantity being presented, not the notation being used to present it.

But with regard to school grades (and in a few other places), I think an argument can be made that the percent symbol is functioning as a unit of measure - and this changes things. Is 87 a quantity, or is it a quantifier applied to percent? Where do the attributes which establish the proper determiner lie - with the 87, or with percent?

My personal solution is to avoid using percent in situations where it seems to be working as a unit. I shift to a less confusing measure. I would say "scored an 87" in this case.

A percentage, a percentage point and a percentile are things, but a percent isn't a thing, and if it seems to be acting like one, the safe thing to do is swap it out. Once it is gone, the confusion goes with it.

• An odd observation - looking for other things, I noticed that "scored a/an XX percent on the test" was about as common as without the first determiner, but if the second determiner changes from the to a/an, people tend to drop the first one - "scored XX% on a test". So there is an issue with definite vs indefinite articles here as well. – Phil Sweet Nov 21 '16 at 21:04

The simplest interpretation is to use the definition (OED)

percent, n: one part in every hundred

Then, 87 is just a count. At least according to Wiktionary, percent has two plurals: percent and percents. It seems you are using the former. Recall you cannot have a count and an article.

I earned 1 percent. I earned 87 percent.

Of course, there are other interpretations.

Perhaps we are not counting percent, but rather referencing the text of a written mark.

According to my report card, I earned an "87%".

Maybe 87% is a noun meaning "a grade of 87 out of 100" (although I do not see this usage in the OED)

I earned a grade of 87/100. I earned an 87%.

Sorry for inventing interpretations in which both answers are correct. The first seems the most standard.