The right “time” for everything

This article is published in the monday issues of  Times of India.This article was written by Dr V Saraswathi.

Micmanz Lanugage Improvement series

Even though he could not tell time, my three year old grandson was wearing a watch when I visited him. Later, when I was putting on my coat to leave, I asked him what time it was. He looked at his watch blankly, and then brightened. “It is time for you to go!” he said triumphantly. Those of us who can tell time can’t be smart enough to find such escape routes.


Often we commit mistakes when telling time. This is because we do not realise that there are different ways of expressing time in speech and writing. Usually, in writing, we use figures, for example, 6.30, 5.45 etc. This method is followed in time-tables and official notices. The minutes are always given in relation to the previous hour.


In conversation, however, we use words. And the way we express time in speech varies. Look at the difference between speech and writing in the text below:
Shortly before taking over as vice chancellor from his predecessor, Professor Dumbwit had to spend long hours being briefed about his responsibilities. As a result, he had to stay late in the office to attend to his work. His private secretary had to wait till after 10.30 p.m. After a week of suffering, the secretary made bold to address the vice chancellordesignate . “Sir , may I be allowed to ask a question ” he said. Being permitted to do so, he continued,”You stay in office till very late whereas the retiring VC leaves exactly at 5 o’clock . In the evening. Is it that you have not understood the work or has the workload increased” Thereafter Prof. Dumbwit left office exactly at 5.00 p.m.


Notice in writing we use figures and also abbreviations like a.m. and p.m. A.M. is abbreviation of Latin ante meridiem which means before midday. P.M. stands for post meridiem, that is, after midday. In speech, we don’t use these abbreviations but would say five o’clock in the evening or ten in the morning, for instance.


In speech, minutes up to thirty are expressed in relation to the preceding hour. For example, half past four; quarter pat six. Some say half six too. Minutes between thirty and sixty are expressed in relation to the next hour. For example, 1.50 would be ten to two and 5.43, seventeen minutes to six. Fifteen minutes past an hour is called quarter past, and thirty minutes after an hour half past. but forty five minutes after an hour is quarter to the next hour. (e.g.) 6.45 would be quarter to seven.


The exact hour is referred to as o’clock (short for of the clock).But remember not to use o’clock when a statement of minutes precedes the hour. You should say five past eleven, not five past eleven o’clock . For 12.00 hours and 24.00 hours, we use noon and midnight. Here’s a brain teaser before we close: What is two to two to two two ? The answer is four minutes; two to two means two minutes before two o’clock . Two two stands for two minutes after two o’clock .

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