English Usage Topics > Numbers and Fractions

Numbers and Fractions

Numbers

When you use hundred, thousand, million, or billion, they remain singular even when the number in front of them is greater than one.
...six hundred miles.
Most of the coral is some 2 million years old.
Don't use `of' after these words when referring to an exact number. For example, don't say `five hundred of people'; say `five hundred people'.
See also the section on approximate numbers later in this entry.
Dozen is used in a similar way to these words. It is used to refer to twelve things.

Expressing numbers

Numbers over 100 are generally written in figures. However, if you want to say them aloud, or want to write them in words rather than figures, you put and in front of the number expressed by the last two figures. For example, 203 is said or written as two hundred and three and 2840 is said or written as two thousand, eight hundred and forty.
Four hundred and eighteen men were killed and a hundred and seventeen wounded.
`And' is usually omitted in American English.
...one hundred fifty dollars.
If you want to say or write in words a number between 1000 and 1,000,000, there are various ways of doing it. For example, the number 1872 is usually said or written in words as one thousand, eight hundred and seventy-two when it is being used to refer to a quantity of things.
Four-figure numbers ending in 00 can also be said or written as a number of hundreds. For example, 1800 can be said or written as eighteen hundred.
If the number 1872 is being used to identify something, it is said as one eight seven two. You always say each figure separately like this with telephone numbers.
In British English, if a telephone number contains a double number, you use the word double. For example, 1882 is said as one double eight two. In American English, it is more common to repeat the number: one eight eight two.
If you are mentioning the year 1872, you usually say eighteen seventy-two.
When numbers over 9999 are written in figures, a comma is usually put after the fourth figure from the end, the seventh figure from the end, and so on, dividing the figures into groups of three, for example 15,000 or 1,982,000. With numbers between 1000 and 9999, a comma is sometimes put after the first figure, for example 1,526.

Position

When you use a determiner and a number in front of a noun, you put the determiner in front of the number.
...the three young men.
All three candidates are coming to Blackpool later this week.
When you put a number and an adjective in front of a noun, you usually put the number in front of the adjective.
...two small children.
...fifteen hundred local residents.
...three beautiful young girls.
However, you can put a few adjectives such as following and only after numbers.

Agreement

When you use any number except `one' in front of a noun, you use a plural noun and a plural verb.
...a hundred years.
Seven soldiers were wounded.
There were ten people there, all men.
However, when you are talking about an amount of money, a period of time, or a distance, speed, or weight, you usually use a singular verb.
Three hundred pounds is a lot of money.
Ten years is a long time.
90 miles an hour is much too fast.

Numbers as pronouns

When it is clear what sort of thing you are referring to, you can use a number without a noun following it. Numbers can be used on their own or with a determiner.
They bought eight companies and sold off five.
These two are quite different.
You use of to show the group that a number of people or things belong to.
I saw four of these programmes.
All four of us wanted to leave.

Numbers in compound adjectives

Numbers can be used as part of compound adjectives. These adjectives are usually hyphenated.
He took out a five-dollar bill.
I wrote a five-hundred-word essay.
Note that the noun remains singular even when the number is two or more. Don't say, for example, `I wrote a five-hundred-words essay'. Also, compound adjectives formed like this can't be used as complements. For example, don't say `My essay is five-hundred-word'. Instead you would probably say `My essay is five hundred words long.'

`one'

One is used as a number in front of a noun to emphasize that there is only one thing or to show that you are being precise. It is also used when you are talking about a particular member of a group. One is followed by a singular noun and is used with a singular verb.
There was only one gate into the palace.
One member declared that he would never vote for such a proposal.
When no emphasis or precision is wanted, you use a instead.
A car came slowly up the road.

`zero'

The number 0 is not used in ordinary English to show that the number of things you are talking about is zero. Instead the determiner no or the pronoun none is used, or any is used with a negative.
She had no children.
Sixteen people were injured but luckily none were killed.
There weren't any seats.
There are several ways of expressing the number 0:
  • As zero, especially when expressing numerical values, for example temperatures, taxes, and interest rates
It was fourteen below zero when they woke up.
...zero tax liability.
They lent capital to their customers at low or zero rates of interest.
  • As nought, when expressing some numerical values in British English. For example, 0.89 can be said as nought point eight nine.
American English uses zero for this kind of number.
x equals nought.
...linguistic development between the ages of nought and one.
...babies from ages zero to five years.
As nothing, when talking informally about calculations
Subtract nothing from that and you get a line on the graph like that.
`What's the difference between this voltage and that voltage?' – `Nothing.'
Like oh or the letter O, when reading out numbers figure by figure. For example, the telephone number 021 4620 can be said as oh two one, four six two oh; and the decimal number .089 can be said as point oh eight nine.
As nil, in sports scores.
This word is not commonly used in American English, which uses nothing in sports scores.
Leeds United won four-nil.
Harvard won thirty-six to nothing.

Roman numerals

In a few situations, numbers are expressed in Roman numerals. Roman numerals are in fact letters:
  • I = 1
  • V = 5
  • X = 10
  • L = 50
  • C = 100
  • D = 500
  • M = 1000
These letters are used in combination to express all numbers. A smaller Roman numeral is subtracted from a larger one if put in front of it. It is added to a larger numeral if put after it. For example, IV is 4 and VI is 6.
Roman numerals are used after the name of a king or queen when other kings or queens have had the same name.
...Queen Elizabeth II.
This would be said as Queen Elizabeth the Second.
Roman numerals are often used to number chapters and sections of books, plays, or other pieces of writing.
Chapter IV: Summary and Conclusion.
We read Act I of Macbeth.
Roman numerals are also sometimes used to express dates formally, for example at the end of films and television programmes. For example, 1992 can be written as MCMXCII.

Ordinal numbers

If you want to identify or describe something by showing where it comes in a series or sequence, you use an ordinal number.
Quietly they took their seats in the first three rows.
Flora's flat is on the fourth floor of this five-storey block.

Written forms

Ordinals can be written in abbreviated form, especially in dates.
He lost his job on January 7th.
Write to HPT, 2nd Floor, 59 Piccadilly, Manchester.

Ordinals as modifiers

Ordinals are used in front of nouns, preceded by a determiner. They are not usually used after linking verbs like `be'.
He took the lift to the sixteenth floor.
...on her twenty-first birthday.
They are used after verbs such as come or finish when giving the results of a race or competition.
I came second in the poetry competition.
He was third in the 100m race.
Ordinals are included in the small group of adjectives that are put in front of cardinal numbers, not after them.
The first two years have been very successful.

Ordinals as pronouns

When it is clear what sort of thing you are referring to, you can use an ordinal number without a noun following it. Note that you must use a determiner.
A second pheasant flew up. Then a third and a fourth.
There are two questions to be answered. The first is `Who should do what?' The second is `Who should be accountable?'
You use of to show the group that the person or thing belongs to.
This is the third of a series of programmes from the University of Sussex.
Tony was the second of four sons.

Fractions

When you want to show how large a part of something is compared to the whole of it, you use a fraction, such as a third or two fifths, followed by of and a noun phrase referring to the whole thing. Most fractions are based on ordinal numbers. The exceptions are the words half (one of two equal parts) and quarter (one of four equal parts).
You can write a fraction in figures. For example, `a half' can be written as 1/2, `a quarter' as 1/4, `three-quarters' as 3/4, and `two thirds' as 2/3.
When referring to one part of something, you usually use a. You only use one in formal speech and writing or when you want to emphasize the amount.
This state produces a third of the nation's oil.
...one quarter of the total population.
Plural fractions are often written with a hyphen.
More than two-thirds of the globe's surface is water.
He was not due at the office for another three-quarters of an hour.
You can put an adjective in front of a fraction, after the.
...the southern half of England.
...the first two-thirds of this century.
When you use a half and a quarter in combination with whole numbers, they come in front of the plural noun you are using.
...one and a half acres of land.
...five and a quarter days.
However, if you are using a instead of the number `one', the noun modified by a is singular and comes in front of the fraction word.
...an acre and a half of woodland.
...a mile and a quarter of motorway.

Agreement of fractions

When you talk about part of a single thing, you use a singular form of a verb.
Half of our work is to design programmes.
Two fifths of the forest was removed.
However, when you talk about part of a group of things, you use a plural form of the verb.
Two fifths of the houses have more than six people per room.
A quarter of the students were seen individually.

Fractions as pronouns

When it is clear who or what you are referring to, you can use fractions without `of' and a noun phrase.
Most were women and about half were young with small children.
One fifth are appointed by the Regional Health Authority.

Decimals

Decimals are a way of expressing fractions. For example, 0.5 is the same as 1/2 and 1.4 is the same as 1 2/5.
...an increase of 16.4 per cent.
The library contains over 1.3 million books.
You say the dot as point. For example, 1.4 is said as one point four.
Don't use a comma in decimal numbers in English.
Numbers that look like decimal numbers are used when referring to one of a number of sections, tables, or illustrations that are closely connected.
...see section 3.3.
The normal engineering drawing is quite unsuitable).

Percentages

Fractions are often given a special form as a number of hundredths. This type of fraction is called a percentage. For example, `three hundredths', expressed as a percentage, is three per cent. This is often written as 3%.
About 20 per cent of student accountants are women.
...interest at 10% per annum.
In American English, `per cent' is written as a single word percent.
In 1980, only 29 percent of Americans were Republicans.

Approximate numbers

You can refer to a large number imprecisely by using several, a few, or a couple of in front of dozen, hundred, thousand, million, or billion.
...several hundred people.
A few thousand cars have gone.
You can be even more imprecise, and emphasize how large the number is, by using dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions, or billions, followed by of.
That's going to take hundreds of years.
We travelled thousands of miles across Europe.
People often use plural forms when they are exaggerating.
I was meeting thousands of people every day.
Do you have to fill in hundreds of forms before you go?
The following expressions are used to show that a number is approximate and that the actual figure could be larger or smaller:
  • about
  • approximately
  • around
  • odd
  • or so
  • or thereabouts
  • roughly
  • some
  • something like
You put about, approximately, around, roughly, some, and something like in front of a number.
About 85 students were there.
It costs roughly $10,000 a year to educate an undergraduate.
I found out where this man lived, and drove some four miles inland to see him.
This use of some is quite formal.
You put odd, or so, and or thereabouts after a number or the noun that follows a number.
...a hundred odd acres.
The car should be here in ten minutes or so.
Get the temperature to 30*5oC or thereabouts.

Minimum numbers

The following expressions show that a number is a minimum figure and that the actual figure may be larger:
  • a minimum of
  • at least
  • from
  • minimum
  • more than
  • or more
  • over
  • plus
You put a minimum of, from, more than, and over in front of a number.
He needed a minimum of 26 votes.
...a 3 course dinner from £15.
...a school with more than 1300 pupils.
The British have been on the island for over a thousand years.
You put or more, plus, and minimum after a number or after the noun that follows a number.
...a choice of three or more possibilities.
This is the worst disaster I can remember in my 25 years plus as a police officer.
They should be getting £180 a week minimum.
Plus is sometimes written as the symbol `+', for example in job advertisements.
2+ years' experience of market research required.
You usually put at least in front of a number.
She had at least a dozen biscuits.
It was a drop of at least two hundred feet.
However, this expression is sometimes put after a number or noun. This position is more emphatic.
I must have slept twelve hours at least.
He was fifty-five at least.

Maximum numbers

The following expressions show that a number is a maximum figure and that the actual figure is or may be smaller:
  • almost
  • a maximum of
  • at most
  • at the maximum
  • at the most
  • fewer than
  • less than
  • maximum
  • nearly
  • no more than
  • or less
  • or under
  • under
  • up to
You put almost, a maximum of, fewer than, less than, nearly, no more than, under, and up to in front of a number.
The company now supplies almost 100 of Paris's restaurants.
We managed to finish the entire job in under three months.
You put at the maximum, at most, at the most, maximum, or less, and or under after a number or the noun that follows a number.
They might have IQs of 40, or 50 at the maximum.
The area would yield only 200 pounds of rice or less.

Showing a range of numbers

You can show a range of numbers using between and and, or from and to, or just to.
Most of the farms are between four and five hundred years old.
My hospital groups contain from ten to twenty patients.
Many owned two to five acres of land.
Anything is used in front of between and from to emphasize how great a range is.
An average rate of anything between 25 and 60 per cent is usual.
It is a job that takes anything from two to five weeks.
A dash is used between two figures to show a range. It is said as to.
Allow to cool for 10–15 minutes.
These figures were collected in 1965–9.
...the Tate Gallery (open 10 a.m.–6 p.m., Sundays, 2–6).
When mentioning two numbers that follow each other in a range or sequence, you can use the symbol ` / '. This is said aloud as slash or to. In British English it is sometimes said aloud as stroke.
Earnings increased in 1975/6.
Write for details to 41/42 Berners Street, London.
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