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Chapter 5: Dates, Numbers, and Quantities

Dates, numbers, and quantities can be set out in various ways and there is considerable variation between publishers. This chapter sets out the MHRA’s conventions.

§5.1. Dates

Dates should be given in the form ‘23 April 1564’. The name of the month should always appear in full between the day (‘23’ not ‘23rd’ or ‘23rd’) and the year. No internal punctuation should be used except when a day of the week is mentioned, e.g. ‘Friday, 12 October 2001’.

When referring to a period of time, use the form ‘between 1826 and 1850’ or ‘from 1826 to 1850’ (not ‘between 1826–50’ or ‘from 1826–50’), ‘from January to March 1970’ (not ‘from January–March 1970’).

Dating systems used before the modern age require special conventions. If it is necessary to refer to a date in both Old and New Styles, the form ‘11/21 July 1605’ should be used. For dates dependent upon the time of beginning the new year, the form ‘21 January 1564/5’ should be used.

In citations of the era, ‘bc’, ‘bce’, ‘ce’, and ‘ah’ follow the year and ‘ad’ precedes it, and small capitals without full stops are used:

54 bc, 54 bce, 622 ce, 1 ah, ad 622

With reference to centuries, all of these, including ‘ad’, follow:

in the third century bc

In references to decades, an s without an apostrophe should be used:

  • the 1920s (not the 1920’s)
  • the 60s

In references to centuries the ordinal should be spelled out:

  • the sixteenth century (not the 16th century)
  • sixteenth-century drama

In giving approximate dates circa should be abbreviated as c. followed by a space:

c. 1490, c. 300 bc

§5.2. Numbers

Numbers up to and including one hundred, including ordinals, should be written in words when the context is not statistical. Figures should be used for volume, part, chapter, and page numbers:

  • Chapter 3 discusses Part ii of Mahler’s Symphony no. 8.
  • The second chapter is longer than the first.

Figures are also used for years, including those below one hundred (see §5.1), and for ages of people:

At the age of 45, Julius Caesar invaded Britain, landing in 55 bce.

However, numbers at the beginning of sentences and approximate numbers should be expressed in words, as should ‘hundred’, ‘thousand’, ‘million’, ‘billion’, etc., if they appear as whole numbers:

  • Two hundred and forty-seven pages were written.
  • The fire destroyed about five thousand books.
  • She lived and wrote a thousand years ago.

Words should be preferred to figures where inelegance would otherwise result:

  • He asked for ninety soldiers and received nine hundred and ninety.

In expressing inclusive numbers falling within the same hundred, the last two figures should be given, including any zero in the penultimate position:

  • 13–15, 44–47, 100–22, 104–08, 1933–39

Where four-digit numbers do not fall within the same hundred, give both figures in full:

  • 1098–1101

Date spans before the Common Era (bce) should be stated in full since the shorter form could be misleading:

  • The First Punic War (264–241 bce) (not 264–41 bce)

Numbers up to 9999 are written without a comma, e.g. 2589; those from 10,000 upwards take a comma, e.g. 125,397; those with seven or more digits take two or more commas, separating groups of three digits counting from the right, e.g. 9,999,000,000. However, where digits align in columns, e.g. in tables or accounts, commas must be consistently included or omitted in all numbers above 999.

§5.3. Roman Numerals

The use of roman numerals should be confined to a few specific purposes:

(a) large capitals for the ordinals of monarchs, popes, etc. (Edward VII), and for major events customarily written with roman numerals: World War II, Superbowl LII, Vatican II;

(b) small capitals for volume numbers of books (journals and series use arabic numerals), also for the acts of plays, for ‘books’ or other major subdivisions of long poems, novels, etc. (see §7.3 (c));

(c) small capitals for centuries in some languages other than English (‘xvie siècle’, ‘siglo xvii’); however, in Cyrillic script large capitals are used;

(d) lower case for the preliminary pages of a book or journal (even if the original uses capitals), where these are numbered separately; inclusive numbers are written out in full, e.g. ‘xxiv–xxviii’ not ‘xxiv–viii’.

§5.4. Currency

Words should be used to express simple sums of money occurring in normal prose:

  • The manuscript was sold for eight shillings in 1865.
  • The reprint costs twenty-five pounds or thirty euros.
  • The fee was three hundred francs.
  • He was paid twenty roubles.

Names of foreign currencies, including the pre-2002 European currencies, should be given in their English form where one is in common use, e.g. ‘mark’ or ‘deutschmark’ (not ‘deutsche Mark’). Note, too, the use of English plurals such as ‘drachmas’, ‘pfennigs’ (but ‘Italian lire’).

Sums of money which are awkward to express in words, or sums occurring in statistical tables, etc., may be written in figures. British currency before 1971 should be shown in the following form:

  • The manuscript was sold for £197 12s. 6d. in 1965.

Sums in modern currencies are given as follows:

€250, $500, $8.95, 25c, ¥2000, £12.95, 35p, 20 roubles

Where it is necessary to specify that reference is being made to the American, Canadian, or some other dollar, an appropriate abbreviation precedes the symbol without a full stop or a space:

US$, C$ (or Can$), A$ (or Aus$), NZ$

Unless writing in a historical context, avoid traditional abbreviations such as ‘kr.’ for the Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian krone/krona, and instead write the modern currency codes ‘NOK’, ‘DKK’, or ‘SEK’, before the figure and separated from it by a space, e.g. ‘SEK 120’. Similarly for the Swiss franc, ‘CHF’.

Of the European currencies replaced by the euro in 2002, abbreviations for the Belgian franc, ‘BF’, French franc, ‘F’, and Spanish peseta, ‘Pt’ or ‘Pts’, should be written after the figure: ‘670 Pts’. The deutschmark, however, precedes it (and is separated from it by a space): ‘DM 8’.

§5.5. Weights and Measures

In non-statistical contexts express weights and measures in words:

  • He bought a phial of laudanum and an ounce of arsenic at a pharmacy two miles from Cheapside.

In statistical works or in subjects where frequent reference is made to them, weights and measures may be expressed in figures with appropriate abbreviations, with a space between the figure and the abbreviation:

  • The priory is situated 3 km from the village of Emshall.
  • The same 13 mm capitals were used by three Madrid printers at different times.

Note that most such abbreviations do not take a full stop or plural s:

1 kg, 15 kg, 1 mm, 6 cm, 15 m, 4 l (litres), 2 ft, 100 lb, 10 oz

But, to avoid ambiguity, use ‘in.’ for ‘inch(es)’.

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