Math in English

Did you know there is math in English? I majored in journalism just to avoid having to deal with mathematics. And then, just when I thought I was safe from the numbers, the principles of math leap from the written pages of prose.  So I ended up taking all those math courses anyway – you have to if you are going to fly.

In math, of course, the numbers are more critical. If you make a mistake in an engineering problem, it can…, well, lead to a real problem. Such as a building collapsing or a bridge falling into a ravine, or maybe a wing falling off an airplane in flight. All not good.

In English, or writing if you will, the worst that can happen is confusion. Beyond that, maybe there could be financial fallout if the numbers involve great sums of money in a legal contract and the writer makes a mistake in producing the document. 

So, back about in the eighth grade or maybe even sooner, l discovered I did better in English courses than in my Math courses. It was then I decided I needed to major in something dealing with words rather than numbers.

In English, the math we are talking about is logical math. When writing about things, people, or other objects defined by numbers in your writing, all of the numbers must agree. What is important in your writing when it comes to numbers is this: if you mention five burglars in the beginning of your article or story, the burglars must always equal five throughout the piece. Even if you have a couple arrested and three escape. (Numerically, 2+3=5; two in jail, three gone.)  

There is something else in writing called subject verb agreement. When it comes to subject verb agreement, what this means is making sure your verbs agree with the number of subjects.  In other words, “They is” is improper; it should be, “They are.”  Same illustration on the other side includes, “He is…” (proper), and “He are…” (improper).

In addition to number agreement, there are rules in the way you “write” numbers in your manuscript. Generally, and these rules are based on newspaper writing styles, single digits are spelled out and numbers are used for the number 10 or more.  For numbers up to 10,000 commas are not used. Editors only use commas in quantities greater than 10,000.

If you write about numbers in the millions, it is done like this: if you round off $1,205,000 to “one point two million,” you would write it as $1.2 million. If you are going to write a specific large number, down to the penny, you would report it as $11,757,239.33 in your piece.  I wish that were my bank balance…

There are different number conventions for reporting other figures but they are too numerous to go into in this short article. You should investigate the many other methods writers use numbers in various ways before submitting or publishing your piece.

Now, let’s get down to the really important numbers in your writing. Those numbers would be the ones written on your paycheck. The thing to keep in mind with these numbers is that you want to make them as large as possible, payable to you.

And one last thing: make certain they spell your name correctly.


© 2010 J. Clark

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