MLA Numbers


When do I use numerals or words to represent a number?

When writing about literature or a subject that does not require frequent use of numbers, you should spell out numbers that can be written in one or two words (five, twenty-seven, two hundred, three thousand, four million), but use Arabic numerals to represent all others (101, 158, 3,458).

Example: I have ninety-nine problems, but numbers are not one of them.

Example: He was able to stuff 168 envelopes yesterday.

However, if you are working with a subject that requires frequent use of numbers, like a scientific paper, you will use numerals for all numbers that precede technical units of measurement (16 amperes, 5 milliliters) and numbers that are presented together and that refer to similar things, like comparisons or experimental data (4 to 15). Spell out all other numbers that can be written in one or two words.

Example: In the ten years covered by the study, the number of participating institutions in the United States doubled, reaching 90, and membership in the six-state region rose from 4 to 15.

Is there anything else I should know about numbers in MLA?

  • With an abbreviation or symbol: 6 lbs., 4:20 p.m., 3%, 8 KB, $9, 2”
  • In an address: 4401 13th Avenue
  • In dates:
    • 1 April 2001 or April 1, 2001
    • the twentieth century (when by itself), twentieth-century literature (hyphen when used as an adjective)
    • 19 BC or AD 565 (BC is after the numeral and AD is before), and 19 BCE or 565 CE (“before the common era” and “common era” can be used in place of BC and AD and go after the year)
  • Indicating time of day: 2:00 p.m., five o’clock (spell the number when using o’clock), a quarter to twelve or half past ten (spell the number when time is expressed in quarter or half hours)
  • In decimal fractions: 8.3
  • In page references: page 7
  • Large numbers can use a combination of numerals and words: 4.5 million
  • Ranges of numbers: 2-3, 21-48, 1,003-05
  • Ranges of years: 1898-1989 (AD is not required before year), 2000-08, 748-742 BC (BC is required), 143 BC-AD 149 (BC and AD are required when giving a range that starts before AD 1)
Written by Jared Miller and adapted from the following source(s): MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th Edition.

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