Writing Numbers – Periods or Commas?
One of the most common mistakes I see when proofreading bilingual annual reports (German/English) is that the periods and commas are placed incorrectly as delimiters in numbers and figures.
When writing figures, German speakers sometimes forget that the symbols used are different in German and English. In both German and in US/UK English, commas and points are used; they are, however, placed differently in the two languages.
Please note that there are different conventions when it comes to writing numbers, both in German (e.g. Duden or DIN standard DIN 5008), and in the different versions of English (UK, Canada, South Africa, etc.). For the sake of clarity I have boiled this complex topic down to the following rules for German and US/UK English when it comes to writing figures, e.g. in multilingual financial reports:
1. Symbol for the “decimal separator”
- In German: „EUR 999,50“ or „EUR 2,5 Millionen“
- In English: “EUR 999.50” or “EUR 2.5 million”
Notice how in UK/US English a decimal point, and not a comma, is placed as separator before the cents (the fractional part of the decimal number).
2. Symbol for the “thousands separator”
- In German: „US-$ 400.456,50“
- In English: “US-$ 400,456.50”
Notice how in US/UK English a comma, and not a point, is placed as a 3-digit group separator.
By the way:
To avoid confusion, especially in international documents, in recent years the use of spaces for digit grouping (preferably a "thin space") has been advocated in numerous German and English style sheets and standards. Example:
- In English: “The yearly water consumption in New York is 42 705 gallons on average per capita.”
- In German: „Der jährliche Wasserverbrauch in New York beträgt durchschnittlich 161 655 Liter pro Kopf.“
Which brings me to the next challenge: Different international measuring units – but that's another story for another day!