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Percentage Sign (%)

The percent sign (%) is the symbol used to indicate a percentage, a number or ratio as a fraction of 100.

Overview of the percentage sign

The percent sign is a symbol used to indicate a percentage, number, or ratio as a fraction of 100. The symbol for a percentage follows the number which is the actual percent, as in 1%. The symbol can be used in text and in mathematical equations as needed.

There are two related signs which are the permille (indicating a percentage of 1000) and the permyriad (indicating a percentage of 10,000). The word “percent” means in the hundred or of each hundred. The word is derived from the earlier “per cent” from the Latin per meaning “thoroughly” and centum meaning “hundred.” The first known use of the term was 1667.

Percentage sign usage examples and conventions

There are various spacing rules for the percentage sign depending on the language being used (according to the writers who do research paper services for Ultius). In English the percent sign and the number is corresponds to are not separated by space, but the International System of Units and ISO 31-0 standard require a non-breaking space between them.

The Chinese percent sign never uses space because Chinese characters and words are never separated. In Swedish, German, French, Finnish, and Czech there is a non-breaking space between the number and percent sign. In Italian, the percent sign is never spaced. In Persian and Turkish, the percent sign precedes the number instead of following it (for example %3). It is possible that the 3% we know today evolved from using the slash sign in Latin-based languages prior to the use of the decimal point (an example is 1/100th or 1% written as 0/01).  Perhaps 0/0 evolved into the percent sign we know today: %.

Other uses in modern writing and computer science

The percent sign is most often used in places where economy of characters, words, or phrases is important, such as in tables. In text situations, the word “percent” is usually spelled out. In other words, the text would say:

“The economics essay I bought will show that the unemployment rate has dropped to 3 percent” instead of “The unemployment rate has dropped to 3%.”

The first known use of the percent symbol was in 1425, and the Italian words per cento was used as well as abbreviations such as “per 100,” “p 100,” and “p cento.” A 1339 arithmetic text demonstrates use of such an abbreviation which was common during these times. Through the study of ancient writings, the evolution of the symbol can be clearly seen; an evolution which was a result of shorthand in written language. 

Computer languages use the percent symbol in various ways, depending on the particular programming language. For instance, TeX, LaTeX, and Postscript use % to denote a line comment. BASIC uses a trailing % after a variable name to mark it as an integer. Perl uses % as a sigil representing hashes. In many languages, the percent sign denotes portions of the template string that will eventually be replaced with arguments, for example Python and Ruby.

In linguistics, the percent sign is prepended to an example string of words to show that it is well-formed by some speakers and not by others. These different formations of words may be a result of differing dialects or idiolects which are distinct for certain people or cultural groups.

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