Per cent or Percent: What’s the Difference?

Say you own 34 shirts, but 33 of them are too small. You want to find out what portion of your shirts are too small, so you divide 33 by 34 to get 0.97. You subsequently move the decimal two places to the right to arrive at 97 and attach the % symbol.

You have now calculated that precisely 97% of your shirts are too small. It’s time to go shopping, or to eat fewer cheeseburgers.

When writing about numbers, stylistics sometimes dictates that mathematical symbols be written out in word form. This can be cumbersome, and in some instances actually makes text more difficult to read.

Nonetheless, there are situations in which you may be required to avoid symbols like the % sign and instead express that concept in the form of words.

Should you use two words, as in per cent, or shorten two words to one, to form percent?

Continue reading to find out.

What is the Difference Between Per cent and Percent?

In this article, I will compare per cent vs. percent. I will use each in a sentence, so you can see how they are properly uses, and, at the end, I will discuss a useful trick to decide whether you should use percent or per cent in your writing.

When to Use Percent

Percent versus per centWhat does percent mean? Per cent and percent are variants of the word that describes one part of a hundred.

In American English, the single word variant is standard.

You could use it like this,

  • Ninety-seven percent of my shirts are too small.
  • According to recent data, Coca-Cola owns greater than 17 percent of the soft drink market, followed by Diet Coke at nearly ten percent, and trailed by Pepsi, at just under nine percent.
  • Nearly 94 percent of districts and around 84 percent of public schools in Texas met minimum education standards, officials announced Monday, in the final incarnation of an academic rating system that next year will be replaced with letter grades between A and F. –ABC News

When to Use Per Cent

Definition of percent definition of per cent definitionWhat does per cent mean? Per cent is preferred in British English. It can be used in all the same contexts as percent.

  • At its peak, Mir mine produced on average two million carats of rough diamonds a year, worth at least £20million, and with nearby mines was responsible for 23 per cent of the world’s rough diamonds. –Daily Mail

It should be noted, however, that the word cent, in many nations, denotes a denomination of currency. If you were referring to individual cents and the quantity of goods to be exchanged for each one, you would use per cent.

For example,

  • If Wendy buys one ton of wheat, she could buy it at a price of 3 ounces per cent.

In other words, Wendy gets 3 ounces of wheat for every cent.

This scenario is an extreme outlier, but it illustrates one of the difficulties of writing mathematical symbols in word form, which is a standard convention in most formal writing.

It is much more common to write out percent than to include a percent sign, % , be it in books, newspapers, or magazines.

Technical books or mathematical books are an obvious exception.

Why the Difference in Spelling?

Define per cent and define percent Some of you might be wondering why British writers separate the word in two to begin with. What is the point of breaking the word apart?

While it’s not commonly known among younger writes, the spellings percent and per cent are both abbreviations for the Early English spelling per centum.

So, British writers aren’t separating the word; American writers are conjoining it.

The evolution of the word through English has taken these forms Per Centum > Per Cent. > Per Cent > Percent.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Here is a trick to remember per cent vs. percent for your writing.

If you are in a situation where you need to write out the words percent or per cent, use percent with American audiences and per cent with British audiences.

You can remember to use per cent with British audiences since British currency uses pence instead of cents, so Britons avoid the possible confusion when buying commodity goods.


Is it percent or per cent? Per cent and percent are two ways of describing the symbol %, which refers to one part in a hundred.

  • Per cent is the preferred British spelling.
  • Percent is the spelling preferred in American English.

You can remember to use per cent for British audiences since they denominate their currency into pence, rather than cents, so they are less likely to be confused.