Starting Sentences with Numbers

by Craig Shrives

Starting Sentences with Numbers

Try to avoid starting a sentence with a number written in figures.
  • 71 people were rescued from the sinking ferry by the Latvian helicopter crew.
  • (This is not wrong, but it is untidy.)
It's not an error to start a sentence with a figure, but it often looks awkward. If you agree, you should either reword your sentence or write the number in full. For example:
  • The Latvian helicopter crew rescued 71 people from the sinking ferry.
  • (This re-worded version is tidier.)
  • Seventy-one people were rescued from the sinking ferry by the Latvian helicopter crew.
  • (In this version, the number has been written in full to avoid starting the sentence with "71.")
starting sentences with numbers

Do Not Expand Numbers with Decimal Places

If your number contains a decimal point, try harder to reword your sentence.
  • 41.67% of people add decimal places to make their statistics look more credible.
  • (This is untidy.)
These reworded versions are neater:
  • Precisely 41.67% of people add decimal places to make their statistics look more credible.
  • To make their statistics look more credible, 41.67% of people add decimal places.
Do not write out your number in full:
  • Forty-one point sixty-seven per cent of people add decimal places to make their statistics look more credible.
  • (This "fix" is worse than the original issue of untidiness.)
If you cannot reword your sentence, leave the number at the start.

Do Not Expand Numbers with Units of Measurement

If your number precedes a unit of measurement (e.g., 12 m), try harder to reword your sentence.
  • 1 mm was enough to cause an engine failure.
  • (This is untidy.)
These versions are neater:
  • Just 1mm was enough to cause an engine failure.
  • The engine failure was caused by a 1-mm error.

More Leniency with Years

Writers tend to be more comfortable with starting a sentence with a year. If you don't feel this way, simple add the phrase "The year" or reword.
  • 1984 was a good example.
  • (This has not been marked wrong as most writers wouldn't consider this as untidy.)
Nevertheless, here are some fixes:
  • The year 1984 was a good example.
  • A good example was 1984.
Do not write the year out in full to avoid starting a sentence with a number. This "fix" is worse than the issue.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

Capital letters start sentences Numbers as compound adjectives How to write numbers in full