Writing Mechanics: When should I write numbers in word form?

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The rules for writing numbers in a sentence or paragraph haven’t changed over the years, but for some reason, I still feel the need to double-check them.   I’m not sure why numbers are such a stumbling block, but any time I need to communicate a quantity, dollar amount, percentage, measurement, or date, I wind up questioning how to write it correctly.  I can never remember if I’m supposed to write the numbers in words, or if I’m supposed to write them in figures?

If you have the same questions, here’s a quick guide to help you know when numbers should be written as words:

Numbers From 1 Through 10:

The numbers 1 through 10 should be written in words when used in isolated instances.

Example:  Each of the four students has one hour to complete the exam.


Numbers That Begin Sentences:

Any number that begins a sentence should be written in words.

Example:  Twenty-four hours is a long time to wait for an answer.  


When spelling out large numbers over a thousand, use the shortest form possible.

Example:  Fifteen hundred orders were received during the first week of business.


Fractions Standing Alone:

A fraction that stands alone without a whole number should be written in words.

Example:  Approximately one-half of the pie was eaten before dinner was served.



Ages should be written in words unless they are considered significant statistics or technical measurements. 

Example 1:  Jackie began working for the company when she was nineteen years old. 

Example 2: Only employees who will have reached age 55 by January 1 of next year will be eligible for the new policy.


Periods of Time: 

General periods of time are usually written in words.

Example:  Although this textbook was written fifteen years ago, it still contains pertinent information.


Are complex sentences all that complex?

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Are complex sentences all that complex? Not really! If you want to see how simple complex sentences can be for young writers, read on.

When I work with young, developing writers, I like to make new concepts seem like they’re no big deal, even if they are a bit abstract. Take writing complex sentences, for example. When you write a complex sentence, all you are doing is making two related ideas compromise a bit in the message they carry. In other words, one of the two sentences will be dependent on the other. By using a simple tool called a subordinate conjunction, you can make one of the two sentences subordinate to the other. It does not matter which of the two sentences gets subordinated, nor does the order or position of the sentences matter—they just have to make sense.

Look at this:

Because the traffic in town is so jammed, I take a different route.

Now watch:

 I take a different route when the traffic in town is jammed.

In the examples above, I have the same complex sentence written two ways. The first one requires a comma after the “Because Phrase.” The second one does not require a comma. Now, did you notice I called the first sentence in the first example a “Because Phrase?” The key to getting kids to write complex sentence is all in how you say it! When I want to see my students stretching their writing, grasping at abstract concepts, and wielding their word power, I ask them to use a “______ Phrase” to start their sentence. In the chart below, any of the subordinate words or phrases work with this writing strategy.

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I might say something like:

“Okay, writers. For the next sentence practice, please write me a sentence that begins with an “If (insert any subordinate conjunction here) Phrase, followed by a comma.”

Most students seem to naturally infer that a second independent sentence must follow! I always call attention to the comma that comes after an initial subordinate sentence. If the students decide to make the second sentence subordinate, I tell them to “kick out the comma.”

I will do the same many times throughout a week of writing. I might ask for a “When Phrase,” a “Because Phrase”, a “Since Phrase,” or any of the subordinate words from the list above followed by the word “Phrase.” I don’t bother to get into all the nuts and bolts of complex sentences with very young writers, but the point is—students can learn to write complex sentences easily when you use this strategy.

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David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.


He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.

How to Use the Hyphen Correctly

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Knowing how to use punctuation marks correctly is important in any type of writing.  As many of you know, it takes years of practice to apply punctuation rules like an expert.  Recently, the proper use of a hyphen sparked my curiosity, and even though I’ve been using hyphens for years, I decided it was time to revisit the rules for using that “little line.” 

A hyphen is a punctuation mark (-) that is used to form some compound words and adjectives. It is also used to connect the syllables of a word that has been divided at the end of a line. The rules for using a hyphen are straightforward, but a writer can choose to add them for clarity if necessary.  Let’s take a look at the rules!

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Whether you’ve tried to use a hyphen in your writing or completely avoided them like so many do, now that you know the rules, you can try adding them once in a while.  The use of hyphens can add voice and personality to your writing! So, go have some fun experimenting with hyphens! 


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Kimberly Crady

Kimberly Crady is an adventurous woman with an immense love for life, learning, and teaching. After teaching in upper elementary classrooms for nearly 10 years, she joined the Shurley Team in 2005.  Kimberly has had the unique experience of teaching Shurley English lessons in all levels, Kindergarten-8th grade and training teachers across the United States.  Kimberly is a National Consultant and SEDA Teacher for Shurley Instructional Materials.


Kimberly’s passion for helping people and living a healthy lifestyle has led her to continue her education in the area of Health and Wellness.  She enjoys numerous outdoor activities from hiking and snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains to paddle boarding in the ocean; although, these days you can find her practicing hot yoga in a Bikram Yoga studio. She also enjoys traveling abroad, live music, reading, and spending time with her favorite mutt, Lu.  Kimberly’s experience as a Certified Health & Wellness Coach and Teen Life Coach helps support her firm belief in teaching the whole person, especially in the classroom.