Posted by: Jack Henry | September 17, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Percent or Percentage

While editing the other day, I had to give myself a refresher on this word pair. I thought I knew which word was right, but I couldn’t put my finger on the rule. Turns out it’s not too difficult. I think I’ll be able to remember it now. I hope it helps you too.

Although percent and percentage are often used interchangeably, they are not the exactly the same. Usually, you should use percent with a number. For example you would use percent in the following sentence:

  • “A 5 percent discount is available.”

Notice that the I’ve used a numeral instead of spelling out the number five in the previous example. You probably already know that we spell out numbers one through nine and use numerals for 10 and above. Well, this is an exception. When talking about a percent, you always use a numeral, even if the number is less than 10. And you probably noticed that I spelled out the word percent. You should only use the % symbol in a scientific document or if your writing contains a lot of statistics.

And, now for some information about how to use the word percentage. Typically, you would precede the word percentage with an adjective, as shown in this sentence:

  • “A large percentage of people get their news online.”

So what causes the confusion? The Grammarphobia blog sums it up pretty succinctly:

Still, “percent” is sometimes used in place of “percentage,” as in “What percent of the flour was ruined?”

This usage has been discouraged by some language authorities, but it’s recognized in most standard dictionaries and seems idiomatic to us.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, by Kenneth G. Wilson, has this to say about the subject: “Percentage is the more widely accepted noun, especially in edited English, but informal use of percent (What percent of your time do you spend watching TV?) seems thoroughly established.”

And here’s your take-away: if you are writing professionally, be aware of and use percent as a noun (5 percent) and percentage with an adjective (a large percentage). On the other hand, if you’re talking to your significant other or texting your mom, feel free to be more casual and use percent in place of percentage—unless you’re one of my grown sons. I demand that they text me in complete sentences with correct grammar at all times. I also recently demanded that they start telling their friends that I’m their older sister. I haven’t been entirely successful, but I’m not giving up. Does anyone know what this means?


Have a happy Thursday!

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Ext: 765432

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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