Do I use Numbers or Words for High and Low Numbers Grouped Together?

Grouping High Numbers and Low Numbers in APA 6th ed.

Do I use Numbers or Words for High and Low Numbers Grouped Together?
Do I use Numbers or Words for High and Low Numbers Grouped Together?

In my other post today, I explained the capitalization, hyphenation, and number-expression rules for grade levels in APA. In one example, I showed how low numbers and high numbers are expressed when they are grouped together for comparison.

Two years after APA’s change, many writers, schools, and even publishers seem to be unaware of the new rule. Why? Perhaps because the manual makes it a bit difficult for us to figure out. This post gets to the bottom of APA’s real preference on expressing low and high numbers. 

Here is an example of APA 6th edition’s new preference:

There were 25 participants in the group, but only eight of them completed the survey.

Yes, I know it looks strange. The old APA rule (5th ed.) would have required “8” in that case, and the current rule in Chicago style (16th ed.) is also to use “8.”

But APA 6th ed. no longer recommends this. The 6th edition doesn’t explain why the rule has been dropped–and actually, the manual doesn’t directly mention the rule at all. But, I assure you, the sentence above is in compliance with APA 6th ed. style guidelines.

Ahhh, so you are a naysayer, a doubter, a questioner!

Ye of little faith.  If I must prove it to you, you can gather this information from two places in the 6th edition of the APA Manual (hopefully APA 7th edition will make this easier by just stating the rule).

First, take a close look at APA 4.31-4.33. Notice anything about grouping low and high numbers? Nope, no rules there. That alone tells us that APA 6th edition has dropped the old rule to turn low numbers into numerals when grouped with high numbers.

This is a bit shaky though. Perhaps APA just forgot to mention their preference and the old APA 5 rule is still in effect? This was my first thought, but then I flipped back to the first sample paper in Figure 2.1 of the 6th edition of the manual.

On pages 8 and 9 you will see a couple of examples (not pages 8 and 9 of the manual, but pages 8 and 9 of the actual sample paper in Figure 2.1…it should be somewhere around page 44 in the manual). For instance, see the fourth sentence of the Participants section on page 8 of the figure. Assuming you have the corrected, revised version of the APA 6th edition manual, you will see a similar sentence as to what I have above.

Maybe APA made a mistake, you ask?

Ahh, still so little faith. No, this is not a “mistake” in the sense that APA does not mean it. APA might have made a mistake if you believe that the rule stinks, but the rule is clear.

For those of you who, like myself, bought the 6th edition as soon as it came out back in 2009, we had the misfortune of receiving a copy riddled with errors. APA subsequently reprinted the edition, offering us the option to receive page inserts or a new manual. I really like that they offered this. I tried not to be wasteful, so I took the option of the page inserts, but unfortunately they did not work for the spiral-bound version (which I love by the way because it sits flat).

In any case, 2 years later I’m still sitting here with these silly inserts flopping around, but I like having access to the error-filled and corrected versions side by side because I can see exactly what APA changed. This is one of those cases where the changes clearly show APA’s new preference. Take a look at what APA changed.

First, the error-filled version of APA’s 6th edition:

There were 30 additional participants, recruited in the same way as described above, who provided pilot rating values: 5 young and 5 old participants for the assignment of items within individual… (emphasis added; p. 44 of the manual, p. 8 of the first sample paper in Figure 2.1).

Corrected version as of July 2009

There were 30 additional participants, recruited in the same way as described above, who provided pilot rating values: five young and five old participants for the assignment of items within individual… (emphasis added; p. 8 of the first sample paper in Figure 2.1).

Notice the change?  This was intentional.  If you still don’t believe me–well, hopefully you do by this point–page 9 of the first sample paper in Figure 2.1 shows another example just like this (also intentionally changed in APA’s corrected version of the 6th edition). In the case of page 9, the low and high numbers are grouped for comparison in a paragraph, not in a single sentence. APA 5th ed. would have asked us to use all numerals in this case, but again APA 6th edition clearly showed APA’s new stance in their reprinting of the manual. In this case, they changed “36 trials…9 trials…” to “36 trials…nine trials…”

I believe there are a couple of other examples in the sample papers as well, but that was enough for me.

The bottom line?

Use numerals for numbers 10 and over and words for numbers zero to nine. There are several exceptions of course, but grouping low numbers with high numbers for comparison is no longer one of them.

Published by

Rocky Citro

Hi, my name is Rocky, and I am a technical academic editor with over a decade experience editing for professors and graduate students in prestigious universities. I have also taught writing at the graduate and undergraduate level and have several years' TEFL teaching experience.