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Writing Numbers in MLA Style

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You’ll need to know when and how to write out numbers in your MLA style school essay. The rules are easy to follow as MLA tries to make it simple to write and organize papers in this style.

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Arabic or Roman Numerals

Although you will use Arabic numerals (e.g., 1, 2, 3) for numbers that are not spelled out, you may use Roman numerals (e.g., I, II, III) in certain cases. For example, the introduction in a book may be paginated in Roman numerals, in which case you would use those page numbers as-is for the citation.

Other Ways to Use Roman Numerals

There are at least two other situations where you may use Roman numerals in an MLA paper:

  • To discuss rulers, such as Henry VIII
  • To format your MLA outline

Which Numbers Are Spelled Out?

If you can spell out a number in one word (or two), write it out.

Examples

Six, thirty-two, three million

189, 1, 879, 3 ¾

If you’re writing a technical report with a lot of numbers, use numerals.

Examples

5 inches – not five inches

20 kilograms – not twenty kilograms

6.5 quarts – not six and one-half quarts

It’s best to use numerals if you have a large amount of data that you’re comparing or explaining as part of your report. Remember, to make it easy for your reader to understand the data, organize your data as best you can.

For example, if you are presenting numerical data from tables or charts, use the same format even if the data is presented in different ways. If one research paper presents data in numerals, but the other paper spells out its numbers, select one way to present the relevant data. That way, your reader can easily understand the difference.

Combining Numerals and Words

If you have a large number, such as 18.6 million dollars, you can combine the numeral 18.6 with the word “million.”

Other Numbering Rules

Student Using Numbers in MLA Style

Here are some other rules to keep in mind when using numbers in your paper.

Use numerals:
In street addresses (see example below)
With abbreviations
In decimal fractions
Numbered series items

 

Example

Their address is 1424 1/2 Sims Drive.

Spell Out the Numbers:
If it’s the first word in the sentence

 

Example

Two hundred and fifty people attended the concert last night.

A Clearer Understanding

Knowing when to spell out numbers or use numerals in your paper helps keep the information flowing consistently and guides the reader. You always want to make sure the reader can understand the data and thesis as clearly and easily as possible.

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