I currently am in the middle of a discussion about the proper use for when to use the numeral "1" versus "one".

There are two sides to this argument:

1) In technical writing, numerals should always be used.

The company hired 4 interns, but the fifth 1 left

Patch management is 1 of the best ways...

The client should create a 1-way trust

2) When using it as a pronoun or as an unspecified measure, "one" should be used.

One of the things to consider

The assessment met one common standard

Can someone please provide some insight for clarity? Thank you in advance.

  • 4
    If you always use numerals (a very dubious decision), shouldn't it be "the 5th 1 left"? Anyway, that 1 is the pronoun, so it should be "the 5th one". Never use a numeral for the pronoun. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:02
  • 6
    "The fifth 1 left" is never correct, unless you were referring to a list of five ones (11111) and one "1" "left". As @PeterShor points out, in this case "one" is the pronoun, and would never be numeric. Beyond that, as a general rule, spell out numbers 1-9, but for technical writing, it may be appropriate to always use the numeric version when you're referring to a numeral (as opposed to the pronoun example above).
    – Mako212
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:10
  • 2
    In the company style guide that I am referring to, the rule says "Use numerals rather than spelling out numbers, but use first, second, third ..."
    – salierii
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:11
  • 1
    So "the fifth one left". That "one" is not a number but a pronoun. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:12
  • @salierii - Are you encouraging management to revise the manual? Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 16:39

2 Answers 2


Why not write:

The company hired 4 interns, but the fifth intern left.

That is in keeping with your style guide and the meaning is much clearer. The "1" in your example refers to a person (the intern) not a number.

If you're looking for other style guides as sources you could try Chicago or, if it's for technical writing, Microsoft.


The cutoff for writing out a number is ten. So one to ten get written out as words, while 11 and beyond are written as numerals.

  • 7
    The cutoff depends on the publication. And there is something to be said for consistency: "We discarded 7 of the 26 samples because of radioactive contamination." Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:11
  • 2
    There is a cutoff, but I would disagree it's ten, because numbers up to twenty are one word, and up to a hundred a maximum of two.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:12
  • 1
    This was the rule I learned, but the consistency point is very good. Also the logic that numbers up to twenty are essentially the same length is also a good one. There appears to be several valid exceptions to the rule, and now I wonder if its a rule at all or just a style preference.
    – Devil07
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:27
  • 3
    It might just be a style preference taught as a rule. I remember learning the cutoff at ten as the default in Chicago.
    – PephenKinD
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:31

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