Grammar

Starting A Sentence With Numbers Means Spelling Them Out!

Yes you can begin grammatically correct sentences with numbers. But there’s only one instance in which you can use a numeral to do it.

I’m seeing more and more errors made when people start sentences with numbers.

The other day, I saw a news story that began with an age. The first few words of the sentence went something like this:

25-year-old John Doe was arrested Friday…

Obviously, that’s just an example. I’m still waiting for the day I can write a news story about someone whose name actually is John Doe.

But the writer of the sentence in the example got it wrong when beginning with the number. The way the sentence should have begun was with the age spelled out:

Twenty-five-year-old John Doe was arrested Friday…

Yes, that’s a lot more typing, but the numeral is incorrect. To get away with not typing all those letters (Oh, the pain!), you need move the age further into the sentence:

John Doe, 25, was arrested Friday.

That’s not only grammatically correct, it’s a shorter sentence, which means you’re not nearly so put upon to make so many keystrokes!

There are plenty of variants that work. When there’s an obituary, the age is often broken out into a second sentence:

Actress Jane Doe, who appeared in more than 100 films died Monday. She was 93.

You get the idea.

But there’s one exception to the rule.

There is one occasion — and only one — in which it’s grammatically correct to begin a sentence with a numeral: it’s when that numeral happens to be a year:

2018 was not a very good year.

It may have been a great year for you, but enough calamity befell several close friends of mine that I was happy to see it go away. I’m hoping the news is better for all in 2019.

But regardless of how good or bad 2018 was, if you’re starting a sentence with the actual year, it’s acceptable to begin with those numerals.

Otherwise, if you begin a sentence with numbers, make sure you spell out the words (or just move the number later into the sentence).

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.