Good subtitling is a complex balancing act and it is an art that often finds conflicting advice in the specifications required for the content being subtitled or captioned.
When it comes to the rules for writing numbers or numerals, it is certainly not possible to produce a set of solid rules covering all situations but as captioners, we can adopt standard and consistent style guidelines and practical advice to follow.
I hope that you will find the following suggestions useful in your practice.
- In general, spell out the numbers from one to ten, and numerals for all numbers over ten:
They ate three plates each.
They ate 3 plates each.
He is 54 years old.
He is fifty four years old.
- Spell out any number that begins a sentence:
Two hundred people attended the ceremony.
200 people attended the ceremony.
- The same is similar for percentages. Use numerals and the percent sign to indicate all percentages except at the beginning of a sentence:
Only 90% of the class was present.
Sixty-one percent of the class was present.
- Spell out non-emphatic numbers:
He gave me hundreds of excuses.
He gave me 100’s of excuses.
- Use the numeral with units:
The box weighs 10kgs.
The box weighs ten kgs.
- Numerals over 4 digits must have correctly placed commas:
- Use numerals to display points, scores or timings for sports, competitions or games:
He scored 5 goals.
He scored five goals.
- If there is more than one number in a subtitle, it may be better to use numerals:
Adam was 8 and Liz was 15.
Adam was eight and Liz was 15.
- Only use numerals when indicating the time of the day:
I went to work at 9:30.
He came home at 5 o’clock.
They will arrive at 7.00pm.
- You can choose to use or spell out numerals for fractions. Be consistent in the rule you choose to follow. If using numerals, a space needs to be present between a whole number and its fraction:
Are you going to eat 1 ½ burgers?
Are you going to eat one and one-half burgers?
- For amounts under one dollar, use numerals and the ‘cents’ or ‘¢’:
Can you give me 20 cents?
I only need 40¢.
- For amounts under one million, use the dollar sign and the numeral:
I saved $100.
My last salary was $32,000 a year.
Do you have $7.50 for me?
- For whole amounts over one million, spell out ‘million’, ‘billion’, etc.
I must still pay $2 million on the mortgage.
The company’s revenues were $41,898,000.
About the author:
Kelly O’Donovan is the creator of GOSUB.tv – An education in the art of subtitling.
GOSUB was born from a passion and enthusiasm for subtitling and teaching.
Having started as a linguistic teacher and then moving on to become the Operations Manager of a leading subtitling agency, Kelly used her know-how, affection, and savvy to create efficient and exciting audiovisual courses.
From her years of experience working with producers, dubbing agencies, video-on-demand platforms, entertainment distributors, encoding houses and more, she has learnt a mountain of information about subtitling and closed captioning. She decided to couple this involvement with her other skill set, which is teaching.