Have commas been cut from the budget?

by Ken David
(San Diego, California, USA)


Growing up and up to this point in my writing career, I've always learned (and practiced!) that when writing a numeral, if it is longer than four digits, a comma is inserted after the third (or after every third) digit. For example: 1,000; 27,500; 100,000,000.

Lately, however, I have noticed more and more four-digit numbers written without the comma. For example: 1000; $2500. I do not see the trend continuing with numbers more than four digits.

Is it now the rule or widely practiced/accepted that commas are not needed/used in four-digit numbers?

On a side note, if this has changed, I wonder how when, and by whom such changes are decided/made? And how is one who is not currently a student or otherwise enrolled in grammar classes suppose to know? I must have missed out on a memo or secret sign in the sky.

Thanks in advance for any help you can offer regarding commas with numbers.

Ken David
San Diego, California

Comments for Have commas been cut from the budget?

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Sep 18, 2011
Commas in numbers
by: Anonymous

Ken, your question made me smile because I've wondered about some of the same things.

Grammar and spelling change when there is a shift in the way people do things. I can't say exactly who makes the decisions to put something into a rule book like a grammar text in a school or a style guide for publishers, but I do now that things are changing. Some changes seem to me to be coming along quickly.

For example, I think I could live to see the demise of the word whom. Many people just give up and don't use it at all in speech, and I'm noticing more "errors" in writing. I put the word "errors" in quotes because in this case, I think we are watching a change in process.

As for the comma in numbers, your observations are correct. In The Chicago Manual of Style, we are told, "In scientific writing, commas are often omitted from four-digit numbers." (15th Ed. 9:59). I do notice that this comma is also being omitted in other instances to the extent that no longer use it myself when writing a cheque. So this is another change we can watch swirling around us.

This shows that many features of language are in flux. Without a special course, I would not be able to read Old or Middle English, and I get by with Shakespeare only because there are notes in the book to help me out.

I hope this helps.

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