Expressing numbers in English: Part 2

We continue our look at the various ways we express numbers in the English language. In part 2, we look at weights and measures, money and telephone numbers. So let's begin with...

Weights and measures

Height, weight, length, width, and distance follow the same rules as decimals when spoken and written:

1.61km (one point six-one kilometres)

24.24cm (twenty-four point two-four centimetres)

120.45kg (one hundred and twenty point four-five kilos (or kilogrammes)

70.4L (seventy point four litres: often LITRES is written instead of L for clarity)

It is up to you if you want to leave a space between the number and the unit of measurement: 1.61km or 1.61 km. Even a quick glance at the Internet shows no consistency as to which is preferred, although some newspapers would prefer a space.

NOTE: the decimal point is usually written at the bottom of numbers, NOT half way up, but your computer keyboard should do this anyway as the half-way up version would require you to regularly use the 'insert' function.

With 'stopwatch' timings, there is a set writing convention, usually in print:

5:21 (Five minutes twenty-one seconds)

2:04:47 (Two hours four minutes and forty-seven seconds)

BUT for:

2:04:47.44 We SAY Two hours, four minutes, forty-seven POINT FOUR FOUR seconds (NOT forty-seven point forty-four seconds)

32.61 (thirty-two point six-one seconds)

But occasionally in writing when expressing 'stopwatch' timings, you will see:

30" (thirty seconds)

10' (ten minutes: note just the single inverted comma after a minute)

5' 36" (five minutes thirty-six seconds)

Anything expressing hours will (probably) be written as, for example, 6h 45' 22", but the set writing convention usually applies to avoid any confusion, particularly when tenths or hundredths of a second have to be written.

EXERCISE 4

Write the answers down in numerals, adding decimal points (.) inverted commas (' or ") and colons (:) where (or if) needed.

1. Take twenty-three seconds away from one minute

2. Write down six minutes, five point three one seconds

3. One third of four point five kilometres

4. Half a kilo in grammes

5. Two point one-two-five centimetres plus two point one-two-five centimetres

6. Seven hundred grammes plus seven hundred grammes

7. Write down five hours, sixteen minutes, forty-one point nine-two seconds

Answers at the bottom of the page.

Money

In English, the dollar ($), pound (£) and euro (€) symbols are always placed before the figure, so 150 dollars should be written as $150, or £150 or €150 if using the other currencies. But it should still be read as one hundred and fifty dollars/pounds/euros.

Now any cash that is written, and if this amount is less than a pound, a dollar or a euro, then it is expressed with a decimal point (.) [and NOT a comma (,)] which is then followed by the pence/cents, for example:

£31.75 (thirty-one pounds seventy-five [pence]);

$00.95 (ninety-five cents);

€345.25 (three hundred and forty-five euros, twenty-five [cents]).

So a very nice expensive hotel room might cost, in written terms, $325.50 (Three hundred and twenty-five dollars fifty [cents]).

We have the dollar symbol, the amount in dollars, the decimal point, then the number of cents.

Note that $325,500 is three hundred and twenty-five thousand, five hundred dollars.

If the amount is only in pence/cents (and may be written as £00.59 or $00.59), it would be simply expressed as 59c (cents) or 59p (pence).

Compare:

Just to be clear. In money, £32.67 would be thirty-two pounds sixty-seven (pence).

The number 32.67 would be thirty-two point six seven.

A final translation point: the currency used in the UK is not funts, but pounds.

Finally in money:

Often when we talk or write about a specfic number of millions in pounds, dollars, euros and so on, we often abbreviate 'million' to simply 'm' so we get, for example, £6m = 6 million pounds. $4.2m = 4.2 million dollars.

In the same way, billions can be cut to simply bn: £36bn = 36 billion pounds.

When talking about the amount of money you earn at work each year, you may see or hear the word 'thousands' abbreviated to simply 'k', so a salary of £25k or simply 25K (but spoken as twenty-five K and NOT saying 'pounds') is £25,000 pounds a year.

EXERCISE 5

Write down the amounts of money in figures.

1. Forty pounds

2. Two hundred and thirty-seven Euros fifty

3. Thirty-seven dollars fifty cents

4. Ninety-nine pence

5. Thirty-seven thousand, six hundred and seventeen dollars

6. Five hundred and one euros forty-nine

Answers at the bottom of the page.

Telephone numbers

Look at this problem:

ENGLISH VISITOR: May I have your telephone number please?

WIKTOR: Sure. It’s twelve–forty–fifteen–seventy–eighteen–oh.

ENGLISH VISITOR: Sorry, was that fourteen–fifty–seventeen–eighty–oh?

In many parts of Europe saying telephone numbers as double digits (or even three digits) is common and causes no problems as the differences between, for example, seventeen and seventy are usually clear in these languages. But in English some double-digit numbers sound so similar that they can be confusing when they are heard. This is the main reason why most English telephone numbers are expressed as individual digits.

In the UK at least, we are used to phone numbers expressed in this fashion, and many would have problems when receiving spoken numbers as double digits in foreign languages as the Brits don't usually think in that way.

It would have been better for Wiktor to say 1–2 4–0–1 5–7–0 1–8–0. Incidentally, there is no rule as to how these numbers should be grouped together when spoken – some people group the digits, spoken individually, into sets of threes ('456 - 737 - 299', some in pairs or a mix ('45 - 67 - 37 - 2 - 99'), but they generally leave a small pause at some point to make it easier for the listener to absorb the information.

There are some telephone numbers that allow themselves to be spoken as full numbers: 0166 600 700, for example, can be expressed as oh–one double six, six hundred, seven hundred, as this is not easily confused with other numbers.

Numbers when written in texts

As a style guide in formal writing, the numbers 1 – 10 are usually best written as full words: one, two, three etc.

Numbers between 11 and 20 are usually written as words but may also be written as numbers. But decide which: don't mix them up, for example, either write eleven people made thirteen mistakes or 11 people made 13 mistakes.

Numbers higher than 21 would almost certainly be written as numbers: Two people organised thirteen parties for 50 people. However, I would not correct Two people organised thirteen parties for fifty people because it does look a lot tidier if all the numbers in the same sentence are written as words.

ANSWERS TO EXERCISES

EXERCISE 4

1. 37" or 37:00 Take twenty-three seconds away from one minute

2. 6:05.31 Write down six minutes, five point three one seconds

3. 1.5km/1.5 km One third of four point five kilometres

4. 500g/500 g Half a kilo in grammes

5. 4.25cm/4.25 cm Two point one-two-five centimetres plus two point one-two-five centimetres

6. 1.4kg or 1400g/1.4 kg or 1400 g Seven hundred grammes plus seven hundred grammes

7. 5:16:41.92 Write down five hours, sixteen minutes, forty-one point nine-two seconds

EXERCISE 5

1. £40 or £40.00 Forty pounds (the zeros may be added on printed documents for clarity or because computers don't always print out the amounts in pounds/dollars/euros/whatever currency only!)

2. €237.50 Two hundred and thirty-seven Euros fifty

3. $37.50 Thirty-seven dollars fifty cents

4. £0.99 or 99p Ninety-nine pence

5. $37,617.00 (or simply $37,617) Thirty-seven thousand, six hundred and seventeen dollars

6. €501.49 Five hundred and one euros forty-nine

Good! Just one more part to go! Please click the link below.

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