Blog/Grammar tips
12 February 2023
5 min read

Can you start a sentence with a number?

Do numbers belong at the start of a sentence? From the time we learn to write, we've been taught to begin a sentence with a word. With so many conflicting opinions, it can be hard to know whether it's grammatically correct to start a sentence with a numeral. Some say you can start a sentence with numbers; others say you can't.

So, can you start a sentence with a number?

The answer varies depending on the form of the numbers and your writing tone. According to the standard style guides, you can only start sentences with years and numbers with decimal points. Otherwise, it has to be spelled out in words.

However, there's more to it. In the following discussion, we'll share more information with three writing tips.

Can you start a sentence with a number?

Writing rules have changed over the years, and there is now more flexibility regarding sentence structure. You must note that while starting a sentence with a number is now accepted in formal writing, it should be used sparingly. It is best to use it only when necessary and to be sure to maintain proper grammar and sentence structure.

In a sentence, you can write in numerals for the number 10 and higher. It needs to be spelled out for numbers one to nine. However, there are some exceptions, such as when writing addresses, dimensions, dates, ages, etc.  

But what are the rules for starting a sentence with a number?

The rule depends on the style guide you are following. According to the Modern Language Association or MLA style, you should never form a sentence with numbers. It suggests either restructuring the sentence to put the number in the middle. If that's not possible, you must spell the number in words. 

For example:

  • Thirty-two percent of factory workers did not receive their salaries before Christmas.
  • Twenty dogs were adopted from the Animal Adoption Shelter yesterday.
  • Eighty-three percent of students only passed the Chemistry exam yesterday.

Your text should have a readable structure that is easy to understand. Spelling out the numerals every time may not make it correct. Check out these examples of writing a number with a decimal and a large number. 

  • 75.58% of the population voted in favor of the proposition. (Incorrect)
  • Seventy-five point fifty-eight percent of the population voted in favor of the proposition. (Incorrect)
  • In total, 75.58% of the population voted in favor of the proposition. (Correct)
  • One hundred and twenty-five employees have been laid off by the management. (Incorrect)
  • The management has laid off 125 employees. (Correct)

Also, several style guides for the English language, such as the Associated Press Stylebook, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, and the Chicago Manual of Style, suggest spelling out the numbers used at the beginning of a sentence. 

For example:

  • 11 books were returned to the library. (Incorrect)
  • Eleven books were returned to the library. (Correct)
  • 3 of my friends will visit Disneyland tomorrow. (Incorrect)
  • Three of my friends will visit Disneyland tomorrow. (Correct)

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Can you start a sentence with a year?

If your go-to guide is the MLA Handbook, it'll teach you not to start a sentence with a number. The guidelines outlined in the book suggest adding an introductory word or phrase before inputting the year. For example:

  • 2020 was the worst year of my life because of the pandemic. (Incorrect)
  • The pandemic made 2020 the worst year of my life. (Correct)

But the AP Stylebook allows starting sentences with numbers, including a year. 

For example:

  • 2010 was the year when he got his first job.
  • 2015 was a lucky year for me.

How to write percentages and numbers with a decimal?

MLA Style suggests spelling numbers in these cases as well. Also, spelling out the numbers is preferable for scientific and formal writing. For example:

  • Seventy-five percent of US citizens apply for jobs from social media ads.

But if you want to spell out a numeric percentage with a decimal point, it may ruin the flowing and readable structure of the new sentence. Here is an example:

  • Forty point seven percent of people prefer working from home instead of going out. (Incorrect)
  • 40.7% of students prefer working from home instead of going out. (Correct)

The first example makes it a little tricky for the readers to understand the text. They probably need to put extra effort into understanding the percentage value.

Three tips for starting sentences with a number

If you want to begin a sentence with numerals, follow these tips to add clarity to your writing. 

Spell out the numbers

It's always good to spell out the numbers in formal writing. The rule applies to all numbers smaller than 100. For example:

  • Thirty people were hired by the IT department. 
  • Twenty-two students were absent today.

However, you should avoid using decimals and fractions at the beginning of a sentence. It's because only spelling them out won't make the sentences correct. Instead, it'll make the texts awkward to read and complex to understand. 

The correct way here is to reword the sentence to replace the numerals at the beginning.  For example:

  • Around 60.5% of people were selected from the Tuesday assessment day.
  • Only 40.79% of students submitted their assignments on time.

You can also use the spell-out rule in informal writing. It's necessary to follow the correct grammatical rules for online content, whether for SEO, SaaS, or finance writing

Don't start a sentence with a large number

There are two rules for starting a sentence with large numbers. It might be easy to read if you start the sentence with a large number in a number format. For example:

  • 6800 or more museums and art galleries are in the US.
  • 2500 cats live in animal shelters.
  • 2718 people tested positive for Covid-19 on 5 February in the US.

If you run these examples through a grammar checker or proofreading tools, it'll catch them as mistakes. But if you spell out the large numbers, those tools won't mark them as incorrect. For example:

  • Six thousand eight hundred or more museums and art galleries are in the US.
  • Two thousand five hundred cats live in animal shelters.
  • Two thousand seven hundred eighteen people tested positive for Covid-19 on 5 February in the US.

But we have mentioned that professional content writers don't follow this spell-out rule. Writing large numbers in words creates hard-to-understand long-winded sentences. Hence, experienced writers add phrases before the numbers. For example:

  • There are over 6800 museums and art galleries in the US.
  • Around 2500 cats live in animal shelters.

Follow your style guides

All the popular style guides for the English language mentioned above suggest spelling the number at the beginning of a sentence. 

But the Associated Press Stylebook allows starting a sentence with years. It even rules forming a sentence using numbers with words or abbreviations as correct. For example: 

  • 3D video game graphics have improved a lot. 

So, the rules are slightly different, depending on the style guide you follow. Sticking to one style guide throughout your writing is better to avoid confusion.

Conclusion

Starting a sentence with numbers is grammatically correct. However, you must follow a few rules and a specific style guide to keep the writing error-free. Also, remember to use the proper formatting to ensure the sentence flows naturally and coherently. 

Check out the Strategically blog to learn more grammar tips, SEO strategies, and marketing trends from industry specialists.

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