Quandaries and Queries


Name: Kenneth
Who is asking: Other
Level of the question: All

Question: Hello:

Which word should be used in the following?

Change a (percent or percentage) to a decimal.

Should the word percent be used only when a number precedes it as in 45 percent?

I thank you for your reply.



Hi Kenneth,

Your question led me in two directions, on a dictionary chase and asking people I know who try to be careful about usage of the language. The simple answer is that opinions differ. This is part of the frustration and charm of English.

The Oxford English Dictionary (which spells it per cent), even before the first definition (as an adverb) has the statement adverb "With preceding numerical forming a nominal compound." This is your usage as in 45 percent. The definition then starts "Expressing a proportion: (by a specified amount) for, in, or to every hundred; by the hundred." As a noun the definition given is "A percentage."

The Gage Canadian Dictionary (1983) gives percent as hundredths and percentage as the rate or proportion of each hundred. Other dictionaries didn't help.

So which do you use? I think it is up to you.

Just to be a nit picker I wouldn't use the word change in this context. Whether you express this quantity as a percent of a decimal it is still the same quantity. I would say "Express a (percent or percentage) as a decimal."



I received a response to your question from Chris


PERCENT and PERCENTAGE are both used to express quantity with relation to a whole. PERCENT is employed only specifically and always with a number or numeral. PERCENTAGE is never preceded by such a figure, but should be qualified by a general term to indicate size (since percentage does not necessarily imply smallness).

They provide an example under the entry percentage: 0.98 equals a percentage of 98.

This seems to agree with your interpretation: you could say either "Express 0.98 as a percent," expecting an answer 98%, or "Express 0.98 as a percentage," which would elicit either 98% or the verbal answer, "a percentage of 98."