Why does the $ symbol go in front of the amount?

The ¢ symbol comes after the amount, the % comes after the amount, yet with dollars (and pounds and other similar forms of currency) the symbol comes before the amount. We don’t SAY “dollars fifty,” so why do we WRITE “$50”?

One of my students asked me this, and it’s been driving me crazy ever since…admittedly a short trip.

Because it’s always been that way…

Because it does.

It’s arbitrary and tradition.

It does let you know up front (literally) that the number that follows is going to be a dollar amount. It just seems to make more sense based on the way we read, even if it differs from the way we speak. If you want to get semantic about it and write out dollar amounts the way we speak them, you’d have to write 2.50 as 2.50, since nobody says “two-point-five dollars.” (You might say “two and a half dollars” but that only works typically for easily spoken fractions, since you wouldn’t similarly say “two and twelve fourteenths dollars” for a different amount of cents.)

The “you’d have to write 2.50 as 2.50” doesn’t hold; it would be “2.50$”. You’d need to separate only if you were writing the units for each part: “2$50ç”. The “.50” is still in dollars, it’s half a dollar and not half a cent.

When I give my height in meters it’s 1.62m; when I give it in these boards, it’s 5’4". This is not linked to “metric vs Imperial”, but to using a single unit for the whole measurement or not. Another example with dollars which I think may help clarify would be going from 2.05 to either 2.05 or 2$5ç.

I think this is the key to the true GQ answer here: you’re going to have to go back before dollars and find out who we took the convention from.

The dollars followed the Pound Sterling convention. The pound sign is from Latin “libra”.
In Latin, you would say the currency and then give the amount. It didn’t matter that English doesn’t do it that way, so although people would speak english, they would write in the Latin convention (notice it is Pound Sterling and not Sterling Pounds)

(Some countries do put the currency first–In India, something doesn’t cost seventy-five Rupees, instead you say the price is “Rupees seventy-five” and write it Rs75)

That doesn’t explain why we put the cents sign after the amount, does it? 50¢ versus $0.50.

In French, you put the dollar sign after the amount. See this example news story dealing with a rise in the minimum wage.

I seem to recall seeing some places putting the currency sign in place of the decimal point: 25$99. Except it was the peso sign rather than the dollar sign . So it must have been a Spanish-speaking country, but I don’t remember which one.

I think the Fr. sign for francs generally goes between the francs and centimes, So you have Amounts like 40fr30

Also from British custom of 50d for 50 pence. (which originated with Latin “denarus”), probably done that way for readability?

Except that, in print, the original form of the pound sterling symbol (l.) often went after the figure.

My first reaction to the thread title was “it doesn’t always…?” but I didn’t really know why until you pointed this out. I’m kind of used to using and seeing either 2.50 or 2.50 but didn’t realize it was a language-related convention. Thanks!

One of the down sides of bilingualism is getting totally confused over what comes from what language. Now if I could only keep things like envelope and enveloppe straight…:smack:

Admittedly, putting it after the amount is more logical; we say 3 %, 6 mi, 27 km, why not 2.50 $? But English is not noted for consistency.

I’m not sure that any language is.

Isn’t Esperanto perfectly consistent? If not, it should be!

I think Mindfield’s point though was that putting the dollar sign after the 2 reflects more how we read out the values, not that the dollar sign should in some sense be associated only with the 2.

If we wrote a currency amount as, say, “3.05$” then someone may read it out as “Three point zero five dol… Oh, it’s a currency value, so I should say three dollars, five cents”.

It does add a little bit of security in that digits can’t be added to the left when writing a check or making a ledger entry.

I’m idly wondering if the convention in Spanish of putting an upside-down question mark or exclamation point before a sentence is related to this convention at all.

Portugal used to do that with the escudo sign (which looked a lot like a dollar sign) - as seen on this 2.50 escudo coin. But Portugal uses the euro now.

Which brings me to the point that different countries in the euro zone have different ways of writing the amounts. Some put it before the number, some after. (See the table here.) In practice, you also sometimes see it used in place of the decimal point, as in 3€50.

Or logic.

Shrug, I have no idea when it originated, but the logic about the opening marks is that they tell you where to change inflection. They’re related to the opening mark in a quotation: “you quote things like this,” thus indicating where your quotation begins as well as where it ends.

The Catalan and Spanish notations in that table contain a mistake that’s pretty frequent. In Spanish, the decimal marker should be an apostrophe (coma alta). It’s common to see a comma because most foreign-made computer programs don’t have the option to use an apostrophe as a decimal market, so the “nearest option” of using a comma is chosen.