Numbers: When to use figures

When to use figures to represent numbers

Use figures in units of measurement (size, weight, distance, and degrees of temperature) and for ages and age ranges of people and animals. These units are always expressed in figures, regardless of the occurrence of other numerical expressions within a sentence.
The rows were planted 3 feet apart.
It was a sunny 8×12-foot room.
The cabinet was made from 3⁄4-inch plywood.
He poured 2 gallons into a 5-gallon can.
The book weighs 3 pounds 12 ounces.
The high temperature was 16 degrees.
Her mother is now in her 80s.

Use figures in percentages, ratios, and other mathematical expressions.
The interest rate is 10 percent.
He bought two 8 1⁄2 percent bonds.
The ratio of 2 to 8 is the same as 8 to 32.
Multiply by 3 to find the correct number.
The specific gravity is 0.9567.
It was a 5-degree angle.
Use 1 part paint with 2 parts water.

Use figures for specific ages of people and animals.
a 4-year-old boy
the 12-year-old cat

For numbers in the millions and up, spell out million, billion, etc., when possible. Use figures before the words million and billion.
5 million
20 billion
$2.3 million
more than 7 million people

Use figures for amounts of money.
9 cents
$4 per pound
We do not round prices unless it is the expressed desire of the magazine editor. (added 5.14.14)
Rounds prices to nearest dollar.  (added 7/25/17)

Use figures in fractions with whole numbers.

The 11⁄2-story house burned down.

Use figures for small numbers that occur in a series (three or more) with larger numbers (10 or more) and refer to similar things.
Of the 224 delegates, there were 20 from Michigan, 6 from Iowa, and 3 from Wisconsin.
EXCEPTION: Quilting how-to copy

Use figures for dates.
His birth date was August 3, 1945.

Use figures for decades.
Her favorite decade was the ’40s.

Use figures for highway and comparable numbers.
We took I-80 to Des Moines.
On this TV set, we cannot get Channel 5.
Flight 527 will depart from Gate 4.

Use figures for house numbers, street names if applicable, room numbers, ZIP codes, and telephone numbers.
Her address is 9 17th St., Des Moines, IA 50312.
His room number is 906; his telephone number is 515/277-3940.

In direct quotations, use figures for large numbers (10 or more)  and small measurements.
“By carefully selecting the materials, we were able to build a 2,829-square-foot house for only $87 a square foot. We used 6-inch nails to hold it together,” the homeowner says.

Use figures, not Roman numerals, for volume and issue-number designations.
Volume 2, Issue 4
Vol. 2, No. 4

Use full-size figures, not fractions, in photographic shutter speeds. The numbers should be separated by a slash.

Use commas in numbers bigger than 999.
16,500 square feet
1,240 pages
The one exception is calendar years.
a house built in 1975
the 2004 election
Why the distinction? Consider the difference between these two phrases:
the 2,000 participants
the 2000 participants


See also Dimensions, Measurements, and Sizes


Figures to represent numbers
Words to represent numbers
Telephone numbers

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Also see the Dashes section of

Hyphens cause problems and confusion out of proportion to their size. Contributing to that confusion is a lack of consensus among experts on the proper use of hyphens. The following rules should eliminate much of the confusion, as well as the misspellings that often occur as a result of incorrect hyphen use.

Use a hyphen for a verb of two or more words that form a single thought.
She double-spaced the copy.

Use a hyphen for a one-thought compound modifier placed before the noun it modifies.
double-spaced copy
18th-century design
a three-piece suit
a factory-built home
polished-granite countertop
satin-nickel finish

Use a hyphen for a one-thought compound modifier of more than two words placed before the noun it modifies.
a fool-the-eye design
tongue-and-groove construction
an up-to-date design
do-it-yourself paneling
11/2-story-house (not story-and-a-half-house)

Multiple hyphens make it difficult for readers. Unless it’s needed for effect, look for ways to rewrite for clarity and readability as well as simplicity.
An out-of-India-by-way-of-Oregon garden … might become
This Oregon garden’s style comes straight out of India.

The singing sensation-turned-interior-designer … might become
Once a singing sensation, she turned her attention to interior design.

Use a hyphen when a number and a noun form a one-thought modifier before another noun.
3-pound roast
20-fold increase

Hyphenate compound adjectives that consist of a noun plus an adjective, such as tax-exempt, machine-washable, or ice-cold, whether they are before or after the verb.
The energy-efficient glass has a high R-value.
The coating makes the glass energy-efficient.
The weather-resistant finish makes the furniture durable.
The siding is maintenance-free.

Hyphenate “well” compounds before a noun. Hyphenate after a noun if preceded by a linking verb.
The well-known speaker came to town.
The well-organized team completed the task quickly.
The team was well-organized.
She seems well-spoken.

Use a hyphen when “odd” or “plus” is added to a cardinal number.
30-odd years ago
50-plus books

Use a regular hyphen in phone numbers and 9-digit ZIP codes.

Use a hyphen for spelled-out fractions.
Flowers are grown in two-thirds of the garden.

Use an en dash (option + hyphen) to indicate a range.
a 30–40 percent increase
75–90 percent of homeowners

Some adjectives are always hyphenated, regardless of their position in a sentence. (Consult a dictionary or the Word List.)
Though good-looking, the project was time-consuming.

SIM style: Hyphenate “-lover” compounds to eliminate ambiguity. (added 8.5.13)

Omit a hyphen in a compound modifier that contains an adverb ending in ly.
a hastily executed project

Omit a hyphen in dual heritage terms (employed only when relevant to the heritage of an American person). In choosing which term to use, defer to the individual’s preference or country of origin. (added 4.9.21)
African American
Caribbean American
Indian American

Omit a hyphen with a proper noun used as an adjective.
a Park Avenue address
a Supreme Court decision

Omit a hyphen when a well-established compound noun functions as an adjective.
acoustical tile ceiling
art supply stores
bay window curtains
crafts supply stores
dining room table
fat quarter bundle
flea market find
folk art collection
food preparation area
front yard garden
glass block wall
grand prize winner
home center product
home improvement loan
home office space
intensive care unit
life insurance agent
microwave oven shelf
plastic canvas crafts
sewing machine needle
sliding glass door
sour cream sauce
thrift store find
wall covering design
weight loss solution
whole grain bread
whole wheat rolls

However, when a well-established compound noun is combined with a participle to form a one-thought modifier, a hyphen is required before the participle. These open compound modifiers are often proper noun forms.
Art Deco-style chair
ice cream-covered counters
New York-based designer
Pulitzer Prize-winning play
Queen Anne-style house

Never hyphenate a word at the end of a page; try to avoid hyphenating the last word in a column.


Combining forms
Line-break rules

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Captions: Directionals

View examples of correctly used directionals. (PDF)

In most cases, every photograph must have a reference in text (either through a caption, directional in body copy, or both). Directionals may be placed at the beginning of a caption or internally, but treatment should be consistent throughout the same issue.

Spreads with two or more photos should include a directional for each photo. Order the captions for the photos from left to right. (updated 9.25.13)

Internal directionals should be placed as close as possible to the noun they are emphasizing. Always use commas to set off internal directionals. Set internal directionals in a typeface opposite that of accompanying text. (For instance, use italic type within roman copy.) See Punctuation for how to treat a punctuation mark following a directional.
The blooming roses create refreshing fragrances, left, near the patio.
The blooming roses, left, create refreshing fragrances near the patio.
The porch, left, features ample seating.
Trace the patterns on pages 57 and 59.
See the Buying Guide on page 112.

BH&G: If the number of commas in a sentence means setting off directionals in commas makes the sentence choppy or difficult to read, parentheses are OK. If the text is labeled with room id (e.g., dining room, kitchen), we can skip directionals. We also sometimes skip using “opposite” if there is an arrow pointing to the opposite page or if the photos are grouped as one mass. Avoid “clockwise” construction; Oma prefers left to right, top to bottom. (updated 3/30/21)

When deciding whether to use “right,” “left,” etc., ask yourself: Where is the photo in relation to the caption?

Do not use opposite typeface for spatial references in copy.
There is ample storage below the sink.
Do not use opposite typeface for spatial references within a photograph.
The living room table left of the window, top right, accommodates eight.
Opposite, right, left, or WHAT?
If a photo jumps the gutter, do not use opposite.
If the entire photo is on the opposite page, use opposite.

Multiword directionals
Use two-word directionals this way: top right and bottom left. One element of three-word directionals should be set off with a comma: opposite, top right.

Three or more photos
Use middle instead of center.

Up and down
Use above and below first, then top and bottom to indicate photos farther from the caption. Don’t use top unless there’s an above; don’t use bottom unless there’s a below.

Overprinted captions
Use this photo when a caption prints over a photo—not other directionals such as this page or this image.

No directional is necessary, but still may be used, when:
• A caption prints over the only photo on a spread.
• A caption is printed next to the only photo on a spread.

No directional is necessary when a caption uses an arrow or a similar character that indicates the appropriate photo.



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Symbols, with the following exceptions, are not used in text. (updated 9.18.19)
This will be several dollars cheaper.
Do you have 35 cents?
The interest rate is 12 percent.
It rests at a 45-degree angle.

Quilting how-to content.
BH&G does use symbols on the Better opener page and occasionally elsewhere for space. (added 2/11/21)

The percent symbol can be used in digital content and in print food ingredients lists and method
[e.g., 50%-less-sodium beef broth, microwave on 50% power (medium)]. (updated 9.18.19)

Product numbers and paintbrush sizes: Use the # symbol.
The hutch (#B4617) is only available online.
Use a #2 liner brush to finish the treatment.

Specific dollar amounts.
The cost is $20.

Temperatures: Use the degree symbol (option-shift-8) and the abbreviation for Fahrenheit (with no space between). For temperatures below 0°F, use a minus sign (hyphen), not an en dash.
The plant is hardy to at least 10°F.
The plant is hardy to at least -5°F.

Symbols are acceptable for tables, charts, and notations on drawings, but use them consistently throughout.
” (inch, inches)
‘ (foot, feet)
° (degree, degrees)
% (percent)
$ (dollar, dollars)
¢ (cent, cents—except with decimals)

Use Dimension X in all measurements. (Select text, then navigate to Window/Automation/Scripts and select “Convert Characters.” If this script is not installed on your computer, see a staff copy editor.)
Use a 2×4 for the project.

Use symbols, such as ampersands, in company names that use them. Leave space around an ampersand separating words, but not around one separating initials.
It’s manufactured by Smith & Co.
It’s manufactured by B&R Designs.

Abbreviate number (No.) in text material when it precedes a figure.
Use a skein of No. 6 yarn for the project. (not #6)



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Quotes (Attribution)

QUOTES (7.8.14 added content from SOTG archive)
• Every quote needs attribution. Just mentioning someone in the previous sentence doesn’t suffice.
incorrect: Sandra loves living so close to the water. “You just roll out of bed, and there’s the beach.”
correct: Sandra loves living so close to the water. “You just roll out of bed, and there’s the beach,” she says.

• When attribution comes before a quote, use a comma to introduce a single sentence and a colon to introduce multiple sentences.
correct: Chris says, “Breakfast is a treat with the sunlight streaming in.”
correct: Chris says: “Breakfast is a treat with the sunlight streaming in. Even on the coldest mornings, our breakfast nook is bright and cheery. No one wants to leave the table.”

• When your quote consists of more than one sentence, try to avoid waiting until the end for attribution.
acceptable: ”Breakfast is a treat with the sunlight streaming in. Even on the coldest mornings, our breakfast nook is bright and cheery. No one wants to leave the table,” Chris says.
preferred: ”Breakfast is a treat with the sunlight streaming in,” Chris says. “Even on the coldest mornings, our breakfast nook is bright and cheery. No one wants to leave the table.”

• Don’t combine full and partial quotes. Use attribution or some other transition to separate them, or paraphrase the partial quote.
incorrect: Sergei calls the new pool and deck area “a resort in our own backyard. We don’t even need to leave home to feel like we’re on vacation.”
correct: Sergei considers the new pool and deck area a backyard resort. “We don’t even need to leave home to feel like we’re on vacation,” he says.
correct: The new pool and deck area is “a resort in our own backyard,” Sergei says. “We don’t even need to leave home to feel like we’re on vacation.”

Using “says.”
• In general, attribute quotes with “says,” which should follow the person’s name unless a long identifier follows and makes this awkward.
“We love spending time in the sunroom,” Phil says.
“My mother cried when she walked into this house,” homeowner Lisa Burgess says.
“Garden clubs should consist of couples because they are gardening together,” says Clyde
Thompson, past president of the Men’s Garden Club in Minneapolis.

• No one laughs words. If you need to mention laughter, find another way.
incorrect: “I gave up and got carpet the same color as the dog’s fur,” she laughs.
correct: “I gave up and got carpet the same color as the dog’s fur,” she says, laughing.
correct: ”I gave up and got carpet the same color as the dog’s fur,” she says with a laugh.

BH&G occasionally uses attributions other than “says” for voice.  That is OK but try to limit the occurrences. (added 2/11/21)

Anonymous sources
Direct quotes from anonymous sources (including unidentified homeowners) should not be used. Paraphrase instead.

In direct quotes, put thoughts in an opposite typeface.
“The place was a mess,” Jane says. “I asked myself, How will we ever feel at home here?”


PULL QUOTES (7.8.14 added content from SOTG archive)
• All direct quotes used as pullouts must be attributed. If you cannot include attribution for design reasons, paraphrase the quote into third person.

• All attributions should be treated the same way throughout an issue.
If the attribution is grammatically separate from the quote, full identification (including professional title or homeowner status) must follow the first usage in a pull quote. On subsequent references, the same speaker may be identified by full name only.
correct first reference:
“The old beams give the new space a sense of history.”
—kitchen designer Susan Serra
correct second reference:
“We wanted to honor the home’s past.”
—Susan Serra

If attribution is grammatically part of the quote, the speaker must be identified fully in the first usage and may be identified by only a first or last name, as appropriate, on subsequent references.
correct first reference:
“Old beams give the new space a sense of history,” kitchen designer Susan Serra says.
correct second reference:
“Fine details create new interest with an old-world charm,” Serra says.



Also see the Credits: Names section of the BHGStylebook.
To set smart quotes (curly quotation marks) as your default, see the InDesign Tip in Style on the Go, Issue 111.



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Use versus With

Use use when you need the object to complete a task. Use with when you are doing something along with the person/thing.
Correct: Use a pencil to trace …/Using a pencil, trace …
Incorrect: With a pencil trace …
Correct: I went to the library with the copy editors.

Note: This does not apply to BH&G. (added 2/11/21)


Spell out common units of measure in narrative copy.
Cut it into 23-inch squares.
The package contains 14 ounces.
The table stands 26 inches high. (the 26-inch-high table)
The room measures 160 square feet.

Spell out lengthy units of measure on first use, and follow them with their abbreviations in parentheses.
Use abbreviations in subsequent references.
The capacity of each size is measured in cubic feet per minute (cfm). A 5×9-foot bath would need at least a 48-cfm fan.
They said their power company charges too much per kilowatt-hour (kwh). The charge is 7 cents per kwh.

BH&G uses symbols in product descriptions in sections for shopping, get the look, etc.  (added 2/11/21)

Always use mph and rpm when preceded by figures.

Spell out measurements in materials lists.
2-millimeter bead
One 10-inch string
BH&G tends to use abbreviation for metric measures, especially in the Better section and when space is tight. (added 2/11/21)

Do not use a comma in phrases such as:
2 feet 6 inches

Hyphenate a measurement used as an adjective.
The 5-foot-7-inch sofa

In measurements, use linear foot not lineal foot.

Use Dimension X to connect numbers in a measurement. (Select entire measurement, then navigate to Window/Utilities/Scripts and select “Convert Characters.” If this script is not installed on your computer, see a staff copy editor.)
5×9-foot room
12×45-inch fabric strip
13x9x2-inch baking pan

There are two ways to make a fraction:
1. Place the cursor where you want to insert a fraction. Navigate to Type/Glyphs. If the required fraction character is available, double-click it to add it to the text box.
2. Highlight the entire measurement that contains the numbers to be changed into a fraction, then navigate to Window/Utilities/Scripts and select “Make Fractions.scpt.” (If this script is not installed on your computer, see a staff copy editor.)
If a designer needs to adjust spacing on the resulting fraction, make a note on the layout for the editor.

See also Numbers.
See also Dimensions, Measurements, and Sizes.


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Use italic type to set off titles, foreign words, unvoiced thoughts, and words used as words.
My favorite book is She Wanted to Read.
Schadenfruede means feeling enjoyment from the misfortune of others.
The word purple sounds funny.

Avoid using italics for emphasis because it is as likely to confuse the issue as to clarify it. (All-capital type isn’t a great option for emphasis either. It’s difficult to read and, in the age of e-mail, widely construed as yelling.)

When you want to stress certain words, look for ways to do it with punctuation or sentence structure. Emphasis naturally falls near the beginning and end of a sentence or after strong punctuation marks such as colons and dashes.

Remember, you have to live with your decision.
Remember, YOU have to live with your decision.
Remember who has to live with your decision—you do.
Remember: You have to live with your decision.
You have to live with your decision, remember.

BH&G allows italics for emphasis. Just try to curb their enthusiasm for the use. (added 2/11/21)

BH&G guidelines for credits

In regard to staff credits:

  • Because we are on the masthead, we need to be judicious about crediting ourselves, even in the gutter.
  • Everyone needs to play a role in not putting names where unneeded—weigh the necessity and benefit.
  • We will not double credit staff on a page. For example, “Producer and Styling” becomes “Producer,” with the styling aspect included in the credit. If styling played a larger role in the work, by all means use styling instead. (“Writer and Producer” or “Recipes and food styling” for non-Meredith people is OK.)
  • That also means avoid double credits for one job, e.g., By: Jane Doe and John Smith. When possible, credit one person for a role.
  • If you have questions, see your deputy editor. As needed, the EE will make the final decision on individual cases.

One-page stories:

  • Credits go in the gutter.
  • If a photograph or illustration fills a significant portion of the page, that will be credited at bottom of the page.
  • Freelancers can get a byline.

Section openers:

  • Photographer and stylists get byline credit.
  • Anyone else goes in the gutter.

Two-plus page stories: 

  • There can be no more than three credits at the bottom of the page. The rest go in the gutter. Who gets the on-page vs. gutter credit depends on the level of work contributed.
  • In general, we want to credit non-Meredith contributors on the page.
  • If the story involved a significant amount of writing (200+ words), we want to credit the writer on the page, especially if it is a freelancer.
  • We want to credit the producer or stylist because their work is seen in the story.
  • This is the order and wording:
    • By, Photos, Illustrations, Food/Prop Styling, Crafts/Recipes By, Produced By

Gutter format (updated 10/1/2020)

  • By: name; Photo/s: (item) name, (item) name, (item) name …;  (Food, Prop) Styling: name; (Crafts, Recipes) By: name; Produced by: Name
  • When only a portrait is getting a gutter credit, you can use:  Portrait: Name name.
  • On a roundup page with multiple bloggers, Instagrammers, etc with name and blog/Instragram name in text, we do NOT need to run a gutter credit unless the photo was shot by someone other than the person named in text.

Well stories:

  • There can be four or five credits on the page. Although the layout might require fewer.
  • Staff needs to balance when they get credit (rather than every issue).  For instance, save “Produced by” for stories you feel you made a large contribution to.
  • Minimize use of gutter credits. Limit them to substylists, such as hair, makeup, …
  • Order: By, Photos, Illustrations, Food/Prop Styling, Crafts/Recipes By, Produced By

Credits for Getty Images, Shutterstock, etc.

  • They go in the gutter at the end of the photographer credits.
  • They must include the photographer’s name.
  • There are two ways to format these:
  1. When all the credits (stylists, etc.) will take up less than one line in the gutter:
    Photos: (photo) name/Getty Images, (photo) name/Getty Images, …
    For example:
    Photos: (Product) Carson Downing, (Bubbles) Joe Smith/Getty Images; Styling: Jane Doe
  2. When credits will wrap to a second line due to the total number of credits (styling, etc.)
    Photos: Getty Images—(photo) name, (photo) name, (photo) name, …
    For example:
    Photos: (Product) Carson Downing, Getty—(Bubbles) Joe Smith, (Ribbon) Paula Lee; Styling: Jane Doe

Credits for supplied product are not necessary if text names the company.

Credits for drop-outs pics (a book cover, a vegetable, one bottle of lotion, etc.) are not necessary.

Colors: Products and project instructions

For an item to be described as gold, it must be at least 14-karat gold. If not, it must be described as golden or gold tone.

BH&G will no longer use golden in lieu of gold/gold tone.
If we are painting something gold, it is gold the color.
If we an art frame, faucet, or something like that has a gold finish, the EE prefers warm metal or the like. (added 2/11/21)

Generic colors (red, yellow, green, blue, brown, black, orange, purple, white) generally should not be capitalized. (generic colors added 9.17.14)
Use acrylic paints in red, glossy black, and white.
Colors that are specific to a certain manufacturer should be capitalized.
Use Plaid acrylic paints: Green #443, Blue #12, and Yellow #16.
If one color in a listing is capitalized, all should be, even generic colors.
Finishes available include Sandy Beach, White, and Cream.

In Better Homes & Gardens magazine:
Cap every color name and put “in” in front of it:

Acme Weatherproof Stain in Brown
ChiChi Textured Weave in Dewy Doe Eye Brown


Colors and hyphens
Products and project instructions

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