# How do we write 46 in words

### Write out numbers or as a number?

There is often a great deal of uncertainty when writing numbers in German. Do you have to write out numbers in a text or can you use the Arabic numerals? There are three persistent - contradicting - legends:

Legend 1: Numbers from 1 to 12 are written out, from thirteen digits are used.

one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, 13, 14, 15 ...

Legend 2: The first number in a paragraph is written out, then digits are used.

The boy had two balls, 3 buttons and 7 marbles.

Legend 3: Numbers written out and not written out are not mixed (if written out once, then always written out - or vice versa).

15 girls and 8 boys. Fifteen girls and eight boys.
Legends theories

Where does this widespread misconception come from that the writing of numbers is strictly regulated? The German lessons could be to blame for legends 1 and 2 in particular. Think back to your own school days. When writing dictations, naming a number inevitably sounded an agonized, questioning moan "Do we have to write them out ...?" through the classroom. In the case of conscientious teachers (or if the drummer was bullied in the teachers' room before the German lesson) it was then called “Always write out numbers in dictation! We do German, not math! "; Nice teachers, on the other hand, were content "for once" with the number as a digit - or said: "Write out the first number so that I know that you can do it, you can write the others as a number."

Since the school days are formative, the habit could have developed to always write out numbers later on, in order to be on the "safe side", even though one has long since stopped going to school. Legend No. 1 may also be due to pragmatic considerations. The numbers from 1 to 12 can still be spelled out with “reasonable effort”, but from 13 onwards the words become longer and more confusing because they are made up of several number words. It is a tribute to the reader-friendliness not to use long descriptions of numbers. Legend No. 3, on the other hand, can only come from people who, regardless of loss, consider the form to be more important than the content.

The truth is: there is no rule that tells you when to write out numbers or when not to. A writer is completely free to decide whether he would prefer to use digits or letters to represent a number without breaking any spelling rule. And of course you can alternate between digits and spelled out numbers.

It is one pure question of stylewhether it is better to write out a number or not. But good style cannot be pressed into rigid rules; it always depends on the exact meaning and purpose of a text, which is to be preferred. It is true, however, that in general a convention has emerged as to when to write out numbers. "Unwritten rule“Is actually to spell out the numbers from one to twelve and use them from 13 digits (this represents a compromise between beautiful-looking numerals up to twelve and pragmatic concise digits from thirteen). Incidentally, the zero, twenty, thirty, one hundred, thousand etc. also belong to it and are written out in full. The roots for this lie in the art of printing, with the typesetters of bygone times, who also sought a compromise between uniform typeface and space-saving numbers. This “customary law” thus also significantly determines the sense of style of readers. Most newspapers and magazines, for example, work according to this specification, which keeps this feeling solidified. This convention is also followed in the academic field, for scientific work.

But also this silent agreement does not apply stubbornly to every document. It always depends on the individual case what is meant to be expressed in writing. The question of whether numbers should be written out is all about "text sensitivity". Often it is a tight decision, the boundaries are fluid.

It all depends on the type of text

In literary texts, for example, Arabic numerals are rather annoying. In novels, for example, you will hardly ever find an unsubscribed number. Most of the time, a good writer will intuitively write “3:00 PM”, not “3:00 PM”. But even here there is scope: if an author wants to express precise times more often, he may still write “12:51”, not “twelve o'clock and fifty-one minutes”. Years are also predestined not to be written out despite literary ambitions.

Poetic Freedom: Unwritten Numbers in a Novel

Just as digits can be annoying in novels, spelled out numbers are annoying where fast, clear and exact recording of numbers and data is important. In a scientific paper, written out numbers are therefore usually rather suboptimal if, for example, comparisons have to be made. Arabic numerals are also appropriate in articles, reports or business correspondence, especially when the comparability of numerical material is important. We remember - you are no longer in German class and you don't have to prove to anyone that you can write out numbers. If a number or number is important in running texts, then numbers from 1 to 12 should also be written with digits. However, if a number has only a subordinate meaning or is even a linguistic accessory, then you should consider whether you allow yourself the luxury of writing it out.

Because there is still aesthetics as a criterion. Spelled out numbers look nicer in a running text than numbers - here you have to weigh up between usefulness and appearance. As always, it depends on the type of text and what is to be expressed with it. Not wrong, but it can be bad style to juggle digits and numbers as words at random (legend 3). But of course there can also be situations in which both variants are appropriate within a sentence:

The two brothers kept 3 birds and 2 dogs.

At this point “two” stands for “both” and has a weaker sound than the emphasized “2”, which counts the dogs exactly.

As shown above, the 1 in a running text can also be justified. However, this often leads to a grammatical problem because the number 1, unlike the number word “one”, cannot be declined. Strictly speaking, “1” means “one”, nothing else. Wherever an inflection (ein, ein) is required, “one” cannot therefore be precisely replaced by the number 1. Numbers as a substitute for the indefinite article are taboo anyway ("a [= the] little man stands in the forest"). What is still accepted as grammatical fuzziness in a (tabular) list in favor of clarity,

thus represents - depending on the reading - in a sentence at best bad style, at worst a grammatical error:

They saw 2 dogs and 1 cat.

Because strictly speaking, it doesn't say here a cat, rather one cat. Normally no reader will perceive a wrong case with "1 cat" (since it seems to belong together); From a stylistic point of view, it still needs to be improved. In texts should be a one apart from years or dates ("He was 1 year old on 1.1.2011") should therefore be avoided - even if the emphasis should be on both numbers, as in this example:

They saw 2 dogs and a cat.
Special feature: numbers and characters

You should also note this: A clear mistake in style is to use percent or currency symbols together with a written number:

In all other cases (unless you happen to be bound by the above-described convention because you are writing a scientific paper or your editor-in-chief prescribes it) you can decide for yourself which form you want to give a number - no spelling or grammar rule prohibits you from using or not using digits in text.

Do not try to recognize stubborn rules, but instead decide from a stylistic / practical perspective, depending on your needs, whether a written number makes sense or not. Do not hesitate to use the Arabic numbers up to 12 if it is advantageous. Also write out numbers from 13 if you find it nicer.

January 12, 2011; last change on 09/12/2012