Capital Language Solutions | A question of style?

A question of style?

25. October 2016

english_dictionaries_and_style_guidesStyle is always important to our clients, who operate in a range of different business fields – e.g. real estate, energy, public relations and science and technology – and regularly produce texts, whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer brochures, press releases, blog articles or newsletters, that include frequent references to business developments, economic trends, studies and market research. These texts all have at least one thing in common – they are full of numbers, percentages, dates and prices. As translators, one of the first things we like to do is talk to our clients about their stylistic preferences (if they already have clear guidelines on such matters), or jointly develop a kind of style guide (if they’ve never really had to consider such issues in the past). We thought it would be interesting to highlight a few of the available alternatives, each perfectly acceptable and valid, and also look at a few cases where definite “rules” do exist. Read on to find out more.

Style and percentages

“Percentage” is always written as one word, but look at the following examples:

  • “House prices increased by nine per cent last year.” (With “per cent” written as two words, like “per annum”)
  • “House prices increased by nine percent last year.” (With “percent” as one word)


  • “House prices increased by 9 per cent last year.” (With the number “9” and “per cent” as two words)
  • “House prices increased by 9 percent last year.” (With the number “9” and the word “percent”)

In general terms, the one-word variant “percent” is much more common in American English, whereas “per cent” continues to have the upper hand in British English. As you can see from this Google Books Ngram, “per cent” was actually more common in American English all the way through to the 1960s, at which point the single-word variant started to dominate. And in contemporary British English, “percent” has also gained ground since the Sixties, although it is still a long way off “per cent”.

Despite the “rule” that numbers less than ten should be written out (i.e. nine, not 9), a quick look at a publication such as the New York Times reveals that this is no longer as cast iron as it once was (“Just 14 percent of eligible adults — 9 percent of the whole nation — voted for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton.)

A second rule states that if you have to start a sentence with a number, you should always write it out as a word, so “Nine percent of adults…” is typically more widely used than “9 percent of adults…”, except in scientific or technical texts, where numbers are almost always used.

  • “House prices increased by 9% last year.” (With no space between the number and the % symbol)
  • “House prices increased by 9 % last year.” (With a space between the number and the % symbol)

The question of including a space between a number and the percent symbol is also up for discussion. Most standard English style guides, including Chicago, APA, Guardian/Observer, do not prescribe a space between the two, whereas the International System of Units (ISU) standard always prescribes a space between a number and its corresponding unit of measurement, e.g. 9 m², 9 %, 9 km. Interestingly, the German DIN 5008 standard also prescribes a space between a number and percent symbol.

The most important point, which also applies to the other examples in this blog article, is that in the absence of hard-and-fast rules, it is consistency that counts. Is the text technical, scientific, academic? Or is it targeted at mass market readers? Does a particular style guide generally apply to a company’s English-language publications? Does the company’s management have a distinct preference? These are all questions that will have some bearing on any final decisions.

Style and currencies

There are even more options when it comes to including currencies and prices in a text. Take the following options, all for the same amount:

  • 1bn euro (preferred by the BBC, for example. “Auntie” always abbreviates million, billion or trillion, and never, ever uses the € symbol)
  • €1bn (the format used by The Guardian. See here for examples in a recent article about EU and IMF audits of Greece’s economy)
  • €1 billion (preferred by The Economist, among others).
  • € 1 billion (not actually advocated by any major publications or style guides, but it does crop up from time to time, with a space between the currency symbol and number – possibly as an extension of the convention established in the following example.
  • EUR 1 billion (used in official EU publications and legal texts, for example, which adhere to ISO currency codes, which stipulate a space between the ISO currency code and the number)
  • one billion Euro/one billion euro/one billion euros (The Economist has a strong view on this one, “The plural of euro is euros (not euro, despite what it says on the notes.)”

Style and dates

  • 1.11.2016 (Dates as they typically appear in original German texts, which follow the DD.MM.YYYY format, but in typical written texts don’t include a zero before single-digit dates)
  • 01.11.2016 (The standard British English format)
  • 11.01.2016 (The standard American English format, which runs MM.DD.YYYY)
  • 2016.11.01 (The international format/official standard format for dates)
  • 1 November 2016 (Used by many news organisations, including the BBC online, the standard non-American “inverted” format)
  • 1 November, 2016 (non-standard, potentially arising from confusion between the American and “inverted” formats)
  • November 1, 2015 (The standard American English format when writing out full dates. If the year is not at the end of a sentence, then a second comma is normally required)
  • Nov 1st 2016 (Used by The Economist, among others, to indicate the publication date of online articles)

Who would have thought that there would be so many things to think about, and not just making sure that the numbers themselves are all correct! How does your company deal with these issues? Are there any formats you simply cannot stand? Let us know in the comments section below.

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