Numbers and Abbreviations


  • Whether or not you should spell out a number or use a numeral depends on context. The general rule for papers in MLA is to spell out quantities that are said in one or two words:

one hundred


  • If there are quantities in a series and one or more has to be put into numerals, put all into numerals.

Her children are nine, twelve, and sixteen.

There were 56 children and 210 adults.

  • Don’t begin a sentence with a numeral. If a quantity that is said in more than one word is at the beginning of a sentence, spell it out or change the wording so that it is not at the beginning.

Two thousand six was the year I graduated.

I graduated in 2006.

  • Form the plural of written-out numbers by adding s or es.



  • In MLA, we should avoid abbreviations, but when we do use abbreviations for the following, always use numerals: lbs., a.m. or p.m., %, KB, $

4 lbs.

5 p.m.


  • Use numerals in standard situations.

2 Locus Lane

January 3, 2001

2.5 (decimals)

If the writing is for a technical or scientific paper where there are a lot of numbers or a paper written in APA, use numerals throughout except that in APA format numbers one through ten should be written out.


In the text of you paper, you should avoid abbreviations; however, there are times when abbreviations are more commonly used. These include papers which are for a science or technical course or papers written in APA.

Papers written in MLA generally only use abbreviations in parenthetical citations or in the works cited, but they are proscribed abbreviations such as n. pag. which means no page information or eds. for editors. The abbreviation et al. which means and others is used in referring to a source by more than three authors: (Jones et al.) instead of (Jones, Marino, Hedgewick, and Malkovitch).

  • Following this rule, we should spell out words that people commonly abbreviate in informal language.


U. S.




United States



  • Abbreviations with Time

We spell out the months of the year and days of the week in the text but use abbreviations in the works cited. May, June, and July are exceptions.

In the text of the paper:




In the Works Cited of the paper:




Some words are always abbreviated.

a.m. (Note the use of periods. Lower case is used in MLA. Upper case is used inother style systems)

p.m. (Note the use of periods. Lower case is used in MLA. Upper case is used in other style systems)

AD (Note the lack of periods.)

BC (Note the lack of periods.)

Abbreviations with Measurement

  • In combination with the rule for spelling out numerals, in MLA style, we should write out units of measurement if numbers are not referred to often in the paper.

ten miles per hour

forty ounces of water

However, if the paper is or a science or technical course or in APA, it is appropriate to use 10 mph or 40 oz. of water.

Periods and Spaces with Abbreviations

While in MLA style, abbreviations are avoided, some are acceptable such as a title after a name such as John Jones, MD. However, such abbreviations should not be used to replace words.

  • John Jones is a medical doctor specializing in neurological disorders.
  • Not John Jones is a MD specializing in neurological disorders.
  • Most abbreviations ending with a lowercase letter are followed by a period.





  • When the letters of an abbreviation are all capitals, periods and spaces are generally not used

RN (registered nurse) MD (medical doctor)

BA (bachelor of arts) MA (master of arts) PhD (doctor of philosophy)

FL (Florida)

IBM (International Business Machines)

AIDS (aquired immune deficiency disorder)

MS (multiple sclerosis)

  • An exception to this rule is after the initials in a person’s name.

J. K. Rowling

Philip K. Dick

J. R. R. Tolkien

  • In most cases where the abbreviation is made up of lowercase letters, a period is used without a space.