11

Would a number, say,

5,629,296

be written with commas:

Five million, six hundred twenty nine thousand, two hundred ninety six

or without commas:

Five million six hundred twenty nine thousand two hundred ninety six

  • This is about writing style and belongs more on writersSE. – Kris Jan 13 '13 at 7:06
  • 3
    When such numbers are written on checks, commas are usually omitted. When such numbers are written in prose, they are usually written as figures, not words. So this is a rare problem for most people to face. I'd probably leave the commas in if they were part of a quotation, but omit them if they were listed in a table. @Kris: I would bet dollars to donuts that Writers would tell the O.P., "This is about syntax and belongs on ELU." – J.R. Jan 13 '13 at 11:49
  • @J.R. Here are the donuts! :) I'm on writers as well, as I'm more of a writer than a grammarian. I'd have offered a simple answer over there, not the one you feared, though. – Kris Jan 13 '13 at 12:51
  • @Kris: The line between what fits better here or there is blurry sometimes, I'll grant you that. Let's just share the donuts and call it even. – J.R. Jan 13 '13 at 15:11
  • 1
    ...six hundred AND twenty nine thousand two hundred AND ninety six, please! – Graham Borland Jan 15 '13 at 10:23
7

It's a style guide thing in my op, but if you're writing out numerals that large in a block paragraph, I would recommend using the commas for readability purposes - a string of text numerals is hard to parse - and it also sounds better (I'm relatively sure most people insert pauses between logical digit groupings).

I'll admit to influence being ex APS (Australian Public Service), but we do tend to do a lot of writing and our style guidelines have been hammered out specifically with a view to making sure that the relevant information gets to the eyes of the target reader, in a form with the lowest chance of it being mangled.

Paraphrasing our guide (specific reference below) and personal experience, three other suggestions:

  • If you can, place the numeric form after the string. The numbers are much easier to scan for in text, and give a quicker indication of 'sizeness'.

    five million, two hundred and fifty thousand, four hundred and twenty-two (5 250 422)

  • I'd also suggest retaining the and within digit blocks. In my op, it's more natural but also binds the numerals together indicating who belongs to which group.

    four hundred and twenty-two

    not

    four hundred twenty two

  • Finally, hyphenate between the tens and ones of a group of digits, again for readability.

    two million, fifty-four thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine.

    not

    two million, fifty four thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine.

I thought it was a bit silly when first having to internalise the style guide, but after a while it starts to make sense, for example in a straight side-by-side:

Five million six hundred twenty nine thousand two hundred ninety six

Five million, six hundred and twenty-nine thousand, two hundred and ninety-six (5 629 296)

Of course, your internal guides (or the prevailing style in your area, I have a funny feeling AmE might drop the internal ands for instance) will have their own suggestions, and consistency is king with something like this.

Source: Old habits from a stint in the Australian Public Service as a policy officer, and the Style Manual (6th ed), pg 176. (ISBN 978-0-7016-3648-7)

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2

I think this is a question of readability. From my own experience the use of commas and the breaking up of the numbers into groups of three is optional, however in some ways has become a convention. When converting this into text, the same would apply. In most cases, spelling the number with the same commas as used when in numerical form facilitates readability. The only case where this may become confusing is if you were listing large numbers in a sentence, in which case leave them out.

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2

As a supplement to BrainFRZ's very useful answer discussing the style recommendations of APA, MLA, and Chicago, I note comparable advice from Words into Type and the AP Stylebook. From Words into Type, third edition (1974):

When isolated numbers (that is, numbers that appear only rarely in a manuscript) are spelled out, it is unnecessary to use and following the word hundred or thousand (although in formal literary and legal contexts and may be used).

two hundred fifty-six

seven hundred forty

six thousand nineteen

forty-six thousand two hundred seventy-two

The absence of a comma after "forty-six thousand" in the fourth example is especially noteworthy.

From The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (2002):

LARGE NUMBERS: When large numbers must be spelled out, use a hyphen to connect a word ending in y to another word; do not use commas between other separate words that are part of one number: twenty; thirty; twenty-one; thirty-one; one hundred forty-three; one thousand one hundred fifty-five; one million two hundred seventy-six thousand five hundred eighty-seven.

It thus appears that Chicago, AP, and Words into Type—which are probably the three most influential style guides in mainstream, nonspecialized U.S. publishing—align on the view that commas should not appear within spelled-out long numbers.

Unfortunately, the Oxford style guide (my primary source of information on style preferences in British English) doesn't address this question, perhaps because its authors imagine that writers and editors can work around the problem by recasting sentences so that the number doesn't appear at the beginning, and therefore can be handled in numerals rather than being spelled out. But since the OP has tagged the question here as "american-english," I assume that U.S. style conventions are most relevant.

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1

Use of the word 'and' in written numbers should only be included when separating the whole and fractional part of the number. Example 300.075 versus 0.375. and 375. If we name 375 accepting and we get three hundred and seventy-five. Naming fractions we name the numerator as a cardinal number and the denominator as an ordinal number so we would get three hundred and seventy five thousandths using this convention with 'and' included in whole numbers. This results in the ambiguous case(albeit rare) where the and could be just for 'style' or it would mean separating the fractional part from the whole number part - that is 300.075 versus 0.375. To correctly name 0.375 write three hundred seventy-five-thousandths and to name 300.075 write three hundred and seventy-five-thousandths.

interpreting two hundred and ninety-six as 200.96 is incorrect because the name does not tell us hundredths (as is the case in 200.96. It could be 200.096 (thousandths) or 200.00096(hundred thousandths. The word 'and' in math does mean 'add' so two hundredth and fifty thousandth could be interpreted as 50,000 + 200 but if we are randomly inserting ands it could well mean 250,000 too. This isn't such a big deal though as the convention is to write numbers (in prose or with digits) in descending order. Omit 'and' unless you are dividing a whole number from a fractional part two hundred and three-eights means 200 +3/8 not 203/8.

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  • That seems to be a USA/UK difference. – Tristan Jun 15 '13 at 14:05
1

As explained in tanatish's answer, it is a matter of style, and probably also a lot on where you live. I'm only adding this answer for completion.

MLA and APA are quite closely related, although there are several minor differences. Unfortunately it's difficult to find anything specific officially since they want you to buy the style guides. However, this blog by APA does give a good answer for both.

The MLA style doesn't permit writing out long numbers. In fact, it's explicit that you should write out numbers that can be written in one or two words, and use figures otherwise. For example, you'd write out fifty-six, but use a figure for 128. Also note that two-word numbers must be hyphenated.

The APA style says you should write out numbers that are ten or less, but should use figures for numbers larger than that.

The Chicago Manual of Style says we should never write commas between groups of words because it can easily look like a list of smaller numbers at a glance. This is a very good point, especially if the subject could seem like a list of types. This would be made even worse when adding an internal "and." Consider, "There are one thousand, two hundred and thirty-seven people, places and things I can think of." The subject is itself a list, but how do we know whether the number is a sum or a respective list? I think this ambiguity is also part of the reason large numbers are restricted from being written out in MLA and APA.

I haven't found any of these use an internal "and" officially except in place of a decimal point in rational numbers.

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0

I think the general consensus with this is whatever makes it easiest and clearest for the reader to understand.

Thus:

Five million, six hundred and twenty nine thousand, two hundred and ninety six.

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-2

"Two hundred and ninety-six" or "two hundred and fifty thousand" are both wrong. In the first example, the "and" denotes a decimal point. Converted properly into digits it would be: 200.96. In the second example, the "and" serves as a plus symbol. Converted properly into digits it would be: 200 + 50,000. The word "and" has no place in a properly written or spoken whole number. The commas should be placed like they would be when written out as digits. Ex: One hundred eleven million, one hundred eleven thousand, one hundred eleven would be 111,111,111.

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  • And never denotes a decimal point. And and always has a place in a properly written or spoken number. Admittedly, this comment may be locale-specific (British English) but then presumably your answer is locale-specific, too. Can you justify "and" as a decimal point? I've never encountered that in any writing, on either side of the Atlantic. – St John of the Cross Mar 19 '13 at 8:58
  • @StJohnoftheCross I suppose one might possibly say two hundred and ninety-six hundreths. Whether one would get away with doing so, however, I cannot say. – tchrist Mar 19 '13 at 14:41

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