Does this look good to you?

I was tired. 4 times I’d run around the neighborhood. 10 o’clock, and I had to quit.

How about this?

Several times I emailed the CMO. 6 days later I finally got an answer.

These are bad examples of sentences that start with a number, that is a numerical character, rather than a word. The problem? You can’t capitalize a number, so how does the reader know for sure that you were starting a new sentence? In the second example, maybe the writer meant O.6 as a number. You can’t tell.

So 98 percent of the time we say, “Please do not begin a sentence with a numerical character or any other symbol. Always start a sentence with a word.”

This may mean rearranging elements in the sentence, from…

443 bushels was the limits.   to…

The limit was 443 bushels.

Or it may be fairly easy to put the leading number in a word form such as…

70 days we floated in the ocean.  to

Seventy  days we floated in the ocean.

In general, numbers that can be readily reduced to words should be written as words. The rule at the business where you’re working may be “words only” for whole numbers up to  10, or up to 100,  or even more. Follow the rule.

Of course if you’re writing mathematical expressions or  including a lot of numerical lists, comparisons, and formulas in your writing, you’ll want a policy that says “numbers only.” These points are for writers of general, not scientific, material. If it’s a mixed list, usually numbers work best. Unless, of course, there is only one numerical symbol in a list of three or more. In that case, use words for the whole list.

Any tough puzzles about  words or numbers? Just send  us email or post your question below.

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Note: We use American English and British English only in our comments about writing and language