Writing style: no space between numbers and units (except when non-abbreviated)

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I had a bit of a scare the other day: an agency I do a lot of work for sent an important brochure to a proofreader after I’d written all the text for it, and it came back with a few comments. A few things were a matter of style, and then there was one “correction” that caught me off guard.

According to the anonymous guru of grammar, I should have omitted the spaces between numbers and units – so instead of “60cm” it should be “60 cm”. What?

The Guardian style guide

I thought that looked a bit odd, so I turned to the trusty Guardian Style Guide for help. I couldn’t find anything in there, so I thought I’d try asking them on Twitter.

I live to write another day

Their curt but relieving reply was:

So it turned out I was right, or at least according to the Guardian. And that’s enough for me.

The International System of Units

Fair play to the proofreader, the International System of Units (SI) – so international that its acronym is French – stipulates that there is a space before an abbreviated unit. However, I wasn’t writing a scientific paper, so just as I ignore the SI when separating thousands with commas, I will ignore it in this case too.

The Telegraph style guide

The Telegraph has a style guide too, and despite being on the other end of the political spectrum from the Guardian, in this they are in agreement: although their style guide doesn’t directly mention it, in the section entitled “Numbers, measures and money”, it clearly departs from the SI and stands shoulder to shoulder with the Guardian: thousands are cleft by commas, and quantities joined to their units.


So there we have it. For non-scientific writing, there’s no space between the number and the unit if it’s abbreviated. If the unit isn’t abbreviated, then – fairly obviously – there is a space. So 60cm or 60 centimetres.


Originally from Birmingham, UK. Studied Law at Exeter and Saarbrücken from 2001 - 2005. Moved to Hamburg in 2010.

2 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Jo Dawes says:

    I know the feeling. I think it depends who you ask. The Economist Style Guide agrees with the Guardian and the Telegraph. OUP’s New Hart’s Rules calls for a space in non-scientific work (11.2 – Numbers with units of measure). As long as you’re consistent throughout, I don’t think it matters.

    1. John Heaven says:

      I agree, Jo – consistency is everything! Thanks for the information sources, by the way.

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