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I wrote the sentence:

From far away, he could easily be mistaken for a ten year-old, at 5’1 he was as thin as a rail and wore a flannel shirt tucked into a brown, leather belt.

I wrote 5'1. When writing height in fiction, is it 5'1? Or Five-foot-one? or neither?

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    That should be two sentences: "From far away, he could easily be mistaken for a ten year-old. At 5’1, he was as thin as a rail and wore a flannel shirt tucked into a brown, leather belt." – ashtonju Sep 28 '17 at 6:53
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In Chicago Manual of Style, they recommend spelling it out.

"At five foot one, he was as thin as a rail."

In some cases a hyphen may help avoid ambiguity. If it's being used as an adjective, you might add hyphens. "His five-foot-two-inch body was thin as a rail."

You can use numbers if you prefer—"He was 5'2" and small for his age"—no spaces, and be sure to add the mark for inches. There's no absolute right or wrong here. Styles vary with different publishers. The main thing is to be consistent within your story. Don't spell it out in one place and use numbers somewhere else.

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  • Or: at five one, one ten, he was tall and buff for a ten-year-old – Stu W Jan 24 '16 at 5:26
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I recommend you don’t write it in feet and inches at all. Those are antique, non-standard measurements that are understood by maybe 10% of the world population, and that number is shrinking in size every single day. You can not only make your manuscript understandable by the whole world if you use modern, standardized measurements, you can also future-proof your manuscript.

Your subject is 155 centimeters tall.

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    Even non-US english readers know that 5' is short and 6' tall, besides the size is further illustrated by the age comparison. 155 cm is unecessarily precise, it is a novel, not a technical manual. I think it is better just to say something like dwarfish, short, average, tall, very tall, gigantic. – Reed -SE is a Fish on Dry Land Apr 3 '16 at 17:10
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    I still struggle with feet and inches. Lately, one of my colleagues told me he lost a 'stone' and I had to make all sorts of clarifying questions. I know that 5' is short and 6' is tall, but I really don't know how much. I agree that describing the person is more useful. – Thanasis Karavasilis Mar 6 '17 at 10:43
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    @KlaraRaškaj - According to worldometers.info/world-population/us-population the US is barely even 5% of the world in population. Of which, I reckon a good amount of them will also understand the metric system. – Erdrik Ironrose Dec 12 '18 at 9:10
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    @ErdrikIronrose Although they don't use them officially, there are other English-speaking countries that use feet and inches in common parlance. Also, while I'll bet most Americans understand the idea of metric system, I think most would not know immediately that, e.g., a 160 cm man is short without looking up the conversion to feet/inches. – eyeballfrog Dec 12 '18 at 14:44
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    @Reed: as a non-US English reader, I have no idea if 5' is short and 6' is tall. When I'm given heights in imperial units I simply wait for further indications later on. Sooner or later someone will mention they're tall or short, and if they don't I simply assume they're medium-height. – SC for reinstatement of Monica Dec 12 '18 at 15:36

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