The weird and wonderful different ways to tell the time in English
This is came out of two of the presentations that were given on 10 December 2013 about telling the time or reporting it.
Remember that there are several ways to say the time in English which are not mutually compatible and it will be based on the assumption of the speaker and that of the hearer.
- o’clock – this is used on the hour so it is six o’clock when the class starts. It is not used with figures over 12 nor used at times other than on the hour. To distinguish the times – you can add “in the morning”, “in the afternoon”, “in the evening”, “at night”.
- a.m. and p.m. – when using the twelve hour clock for times it is sometimes necessary to distinguish morning (ante meridiem literally before midday) or after noon (post meridiem literally after midday). In everyday speech it is not always needed – “shall we meet at 2, then?” it is unlikely that you would meet at 02:00 in the morning / night so it will be assumed by the speaker that that they are referring to the afternoon.
- twenty-four hour clock – the twenty-four hour clock is associated in the UK with the military, timetables and scientific work so the language follows a military pattern. It is useful in that it is unambiguous so you and the hearer knows when 14:30 (pronounced fourteen thirty) is. Many Americans might comment about the military if you use a time in the 24 hour system as in the USA it is uncommon unless you are in the military to use it.
- 15:00 -this time can be described as three o’clock in the afternoon or fifteen hundred hours – the later comes from military usage so is less common in everyday speech but is often written especially in emails.