The English language has many rules regarding how to start a sentence. For example, is it grammatically correct to start a sentence with a number?
In informal contexts, there’s nothing wrong with starting a sentence with a number. However, if you’re writing in a more formal context, such as academia or business, there are some guidelines you should follow.
In this article, we’ll explain when and how you can start a sentence with a number, and show you a few examples.
Rules for Starting a Sentence With a Number
When writing a number in the middle of a sentence, it’s generally agreed that numerals should be used from 10 upwards. But what about beginning a sentence with a number?
The rules vary according to the style guide you’re referencing.
According to the Modern Language Association (MLA), you should never begin a sentence with a numeral. Instead, you should try to reword the sentence. If you can’t reword the sentence, spell out the number. For example:
- Seventy-six percent of the group only just passed the exam, 18% failed, and 6% didn't take the exam at all.
Most of the main English language style guides (i.e. The Chicago Manual of Style, The Associated Press Stylebook, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association) agree that you should spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence, rather than using a numeral.
Incorrect: 9 books were given back back to the library.
Correct: Nine books were given back to the library.
A few style guides do have a more lenient approach, which we’ll discuss later on.
Do You Spell Out Numbers at the Beginning of a Sentence?
The consensus across style guides is that you should spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence.
You should also avoid starting a sentence with a large number. Large numbers are extremely wordy to spell out and they can make your writing clunky.
To ensure clear communication, reword the sentence or add an introductory word or phrase before the number.
Incorrect: Three hundred and forty-eight** students watched the match.
Correct: The match had 348 students in attendance.
There are different rules around starting a sentence with a complex number, such as a number with a decimal point. In these instances, you shouldn’t spell out the numeral.
To ensure your writing has a flowing and readable structure, rewrite the sentence or add an introductory phrase before the number with the decimal place.
Incorrect: 44.47% of the students handed in their essay late.
Incorrect: Forty-four point forty-seven percent of the students handed in their essay late.
Correct: In total, 44.47% of the students handed in their essay late.
ProWritingAid’s Readability Report can flag instances where writing out numerals would make your writing clunky and difficult to follow.
AP Style Starting a Sentence With a Number
According to the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, you should spell out numbers at the start of a sentence. For example:
- Twenty years was a long time to wait.
- Fifteen to 20 people were involved in the prank.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. The AP Stylebook says it’s acceptable to use numerals when starting a sentence with a year, or a combination of letters and numbers.
Starting a sentence with a year
- 1994 was a very difficult year for the harvest.
Starting a sentence with a combination of letters and numbers
- 3D printing has become very popular commercially and at home.
Can You Start a Sentence With a Year?
If the AP Stylebook is your go-to guide, it’s acceptable to start a sentence with a year. The guidelines state that you can use numerals, rather than spelling it out.
- 1974 would go down as the year she left her past behind.
Other official style guides like the MLA Handbook say to avoid it. Instead, you can reword the sentence by adding an introductory phrase to the start.
Here is an example of an alternative to the sentence above:
- She would remember 1974 as the year when she left her past behind.
Examples of Starting a Sentence With a Number
Here are a few sentences that start with a number.
- Thirty students signed up for Mr. Smith’s class.
- Two million people viewed the live show on Friday.
- Thirty books made the competition shortlist.
- Five cats were adopted last week.
- Twenty-five cars queued up for the supermarket.
Should You Start a Sentence With a Number?
If you’re writing an academic essay or writing for a company, it’s important to follow your school or business’s preferred style.
As a general rule, it’s grammatically acceptable to start sentences with a number as long as it’s spelled out. But remember these writing tips:
- Avoid opening a sentence with large numbers or complex numbers with decimal places
- Always consult your style guide, especially in formal writing