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English Translation Style Guide for EU – Writing English – NUMBERS

English Translation Style Guide for EU

General. In deciding whether to write numbers in words or figures, the first consideration should be consistency within a passage. As a general rule write low numbers (up to nine inclusive) in words and larger numbers (10 and above) in figures. If the passage contains both kinds, however, use either figures or words for all the numbers.

Note that you should always use figures for statistics (3 new officials were appointed in 2002, 6 in 2003 and …), for votes (12 delegations were in favour, 7 against, and 6 abstained), for ranges denoted by a dash, and for serial numbers (Chapter 5, Article 9, Item 4) unless you are quoting a source that does otherwise (Part One of the EEC Treaty).

On the other hand, try not to start a sentence with a figure or a symbol followed by a figure. Either write out in full or, if this does not work, make use of devices such as inversion: Altogether 92 cases were found …, Of the total, € 55 million was spent on …

Always use figures with units of measurement that are denoted by symbols or abbreviations:

  • EUR 50 or fifty euros
  • 250 kW or two hundred and fifty kilowatts
  • 205 μg or two hundred and five micrograms
  • 5 °C or five degrees Celsius

The converse does not hold. If the units of measurement are spelled out, the numbers do not also have to be spelled out but may be written with figures: 250 kilowatts, 500 metres.

With hundred and thousand there is a choice of using figures or words:

  • 300 or three hundred but not 3 hundred
  • EUR 3 000 or three thousand euros but not EUR 3 thousand

Million and billion, however, may be combined with figures:

  • 2.5 million, 3 million, 31 billion

WRITING OUT NUMBERS

As a rule, avoid combining single-digit figures and words using hyphens (a 2-hour journey) but write out instead:

  • a three-year period; a five-door car

But note set phrases such as:

  • 40-hour week, 24-hour clock

When two numbers are adjacent, spell out one of them:

  • 90 fifty-gram weights, seventy 25-cent stamps

Compound numbers that are to be written out (e.g. in treaty texts) take a hyphen:

  • the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and eighty-one

Grouping of thousands. Do not use either commas or points but insert thin spaces (Key code for Windows: Alt + 8201. However, this does not display correctly on Commission PCs using older versions of Windows and Office. In such cases, insert a hard space (Ctrl + Shift + Space in Word) and then halve the space width (in Word: Format, Font, Character Spacing, Scale = 50 %). If this is not practicable, use a normal hard space.) (4 000 000). Note that serial numbers are not grouped in thousands (p. 1452).

Billion. The use of billion to designate thousand million (rather than million million) is now officially recognised by the Commission and is standard usage in official EU publications. Leading British newspapers and journals (such as the Financial Times and The Economist) have also adopted the convention.

Abbreviating ‘million’ and ‘billion’. Do not use mio. The letters m and bn can be used for sums of money to avoid frequent repetitions of million, billion; this applies particularly in tables where space is limited. The abbreviation is preceded by a thin space (Key code for Windows: Alt + 8201. However, this does not display correctly on Commission PCs using older versions of Windows and Office. In such cases, insert a hard space (Ctrl + Shift + Space in Word) and then halve the space width (in Word: Format, Font, Character Spacing, Scale = 50 %). If this is not practicable, close up with the amount.) (examples: € 230 000 m, $ 370 000 bn, £ 490 bn).

FRACTIONS

Written out. Insert hyphens in fractions used as adverbs or adjectives but not if they are nouns:

  • a two-thirds increase, but an increase of two thirds

Avoid combining figures and words:

  • two-thirds completed, not 2/3 completed

Decimal points. In English, the integral part of a number is separated from its fractional part by a point, not a comma as in other European languages. For technical reasons, however, the EU Publications Office will replace points with commas in English documents that are to appear in the Official Journal of the European Union.

Note when quoting statistics that 3.5 (as in 3.5 %) is not the same as 3.50 or 3½; each decimal place, even if zero, adds to the precision. The non-decimal fraction is more approximate.

RANGES

Written out. When a range is written out, repeat symbols and multiples (i.e. thousand, million, etc.):

  • from EUR 20 million to EUR 30 million
  • between 10 °C and 70 °C

Abbreviated form. When a range is indicated by a dash (N.B. use an en-dash), do not repeat the symbol or multiple if they do not change and close up the dash between the figures:

  • € 20–30 million, 10–70 °C

If the symbol or multiple changes, however, leave a blank space on either side of the dash:

  • 100 kW – 40 MW

DATES AND TIMES

Dates. Write out the month, preceded by a simple figure for the day, separated by a hard space, (Key code for Windows: Alt + 0160. In Word, press Ctrl + Shift + Space.) e.g. 23 July 2007. Use all four digits when referring to specific years (i.e. 2007 not ’07). However, in footnotes and where space is at a premium, the month can be written as a number (e.g. 23.7.2007). When translating, just for information purposes, a document following another convention, use your discretion but be consistent.

Note that in American usage, 23 July 2007 is 7.23.07 and in the international dating system it is 2007-07-23.

Avoiding redundancy. If the year in question is absolutely clear from the context, the year number may be left out: on 23 July 2001, the Committee adopted … but subsequently on 2 August, it decided …

Decades. When referring to decades write the 1990s (no apostrophe).

Systems of chronology. The letters AD come before the year number (AD 2000), whereas BC follows it (347 BC).

CE (Common Era), BCE (Before Common Era) and BP (Before Present) also follow the year number.

Time spans. Use a closed-up en dash (see 3.19). For the second figure, you should not repeat the century if it is the same, but you should always include the decade:

  • 1939–45, 1990–96, 1996–2006, 2010–12

However, the century may be repeated in the first decade of a new century:

  • 2000–2008

Note the following patterns:

  • from 1990 to 1995 (not: from 1990–95)
  • between 1990 and 1995 (not: between 1990–95)
  • 1990 to 1995 inclusive (not: 1990–95 inclusive)

Note that 1990–91 is two years. Single marketing years, financial years, etc. that do not coincide with calendar years are denoted by a forward slash: e.g. 1990/91, which is twelve months or less.

Time of day. Use the 24-hour system in preference to the 12-hour system. Do not use a.m. and p.m. with the 24-hour system.

When writing times, use a colon in preference to a point between hours and minutes, without adding hrs or o’clock: 11:30. However, if the original document uses a point, this may be retained for the sake of convenience.

For midnight either write the word midnight or use 24:00 (for periods ending then) or 00:00 (for periods starting then).

For duration use h:

  • The time allowed for the test is 2½ h.

Distinguish summertime (the season) from summer time, e.g. British Summer Time (BST).

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