half five - correct or not?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by andersxman, Feb 24, 2007.

  1. andersxman Senior Member

    please help me to find out whether half five is a correct way of saying that it is half past five. A bet is on, and I am sure that not all English native speakers agree on whether or not it is to be considered correct English - it is probably a borderliner, so tell me what you think and let's see what the majority think!
  2. sloopjc Senior Member

    UK English
    The time is spoken in this manner by many, and is fully understood. Whether it is correct to say, depends on who you listen to.
  3. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Many people say it, but I don't.:cool:
  4. Brave1 Member

    Spanish, United States
    I have never heard the time told in that manner. I really makes no sense to me to say "half five" but I live in the U.S. and maybe this is used in some other English speaking countries?
  5. "Half five" would be understood by all native BE speakers.

    "I finish work at half five." (5.30)

  6. mgarizona

    mgarizona Senior Member

    Phoenix, AZ
    US - American English
    Yes, to AE ears makes no sense whatsoever.

    (My guess would have been that it meant 4:30, not 5:30. Oh well.)
  7. kalamazoo Senior Member

    US, English
    "Half five" for 5:30 wouldn't be understood by many (most?) US English speakers, and it might be interpreted as 4:30, not 5:30
  8. liulia Senior Member

    I think everyone in Ireland - and probably most people in the UK - would understand "half five".
  9. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo

    "half five" is not AE--you would have to say "half past five" to be understood in the US. Otherwise it sounds like a sort of strange way of saying 2 1/2.

    (it left me clueless the first time I heard it in the UK--and because I speak German, confused. German halb fünf does in fact mean 4:30!)
  10. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I would have guessed the same thing. :) I'm just another voice agreeing that in AE it would be very confusing. I have never heard it before.
  11. winklepicker

    winklepicker Senior Member

    English (UK)
    Certainly colloquial where I live. I would not expect to see it in writing - except perhaps in reported speech.
  12. nychic47 New Member

    US; English
    I agree with this, not very many people that speak AE have heard of this quote and knows what it really means
  13. andersxman Senior Member

    Great, thank you so much for your contributions. Now, I was the one claiming that using this phrase was correct, my counterpart said it was incorrect. I would now say that it is a split decision with no clear majority! But maybe it's one up for me because it is commonly used in both the UK and Downunder + Ireland!... He he...
  14. haks New Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Australian English

    'Half five' is 4.30 in UK English and in most European languages, as in the Dutch 'half vijf'.

    I've not heard this usage for time in Australian or NZ English, not by native speakers anyway.

  15. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Half five is 5.30 for me - but then I have lived in the UK. I continue to use it here and it's never been misunderstood, as far as I'm aware!

    It might be relevant also that the other major languages (Chinese, Malay) here - unlike German or Dutch - here have expressions that are similar to half five.
  16. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Welcome to the forums, haks:)
    Not so, I'm afraid. Unlike the similar-sounding expressions in Dutch and German, "half X" in BrE means half an hour after X o'clock, not half an hour before it. So "half five" means half past 5, or 5:30.
  17. ovlover Member

    Five and half might be better for 5:30. Many local languages will understand half five as 4:30 although I believe some said it to say 5:30. It may potentially cause a hour of late on appointment..
  18. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Sorry ovlover: I'm not aware of any variety of English that uses "five and a half" for 5:30. But you're right that "half five" may confuse people not accustomed to it...:)
  19. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I've never heard of 'five and half' ovlover.

    Your profile indicates you are a Malay speaker from Negri Sembilan. Surely 'lima setengah' (five half) means 5.30 in Malay! Is your Malay different from mine???
  20. Can we wrap this up by concluding that half five is a colloquial expression and should only be said to people who we know for a fact will understand it?

    If there's any doubt about that say half past five.

  21. e174043

    e174043 Senior Member

    I think Andersxman had been influenced German. Since in German you can say like this. I mean "halb acht"(7:30) , I think there is no usage of this in English. You can say "five thirty, half past five "
  22. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Sounds good to me, Rover!
  23. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    This septic isle!
    NW Englandish English
    After reading this thread I'll certainly try to remember not to say it to Americans (unless I'm trying to appear charmingly British, that is).
  24. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    You are not wrong Rover, but what should be said and to whom was not actually the question.
    The original question was whether half-five is a correct expression.
    It is quite clear from all the answers that the Brits use the expression extensively to mean 5.30 pm, and that the Americans never do. The jury seems out on other English speaking areas. Whether that is enough to win the bet, I'd be curious to know, andersxman
    Last edited: May 25, 2010
  25. Kumpel Senior Member

    London, England
    British English
    Half five
    half past five
    five thirty

    To a native BEer, the above are all perfectly acceptable.
    I'm reluctant to use the word "correct," as there are so many varieties of English, all of which have different 'rules.'
  26. Sedulia

    Sedulia Senior Member

    Paris, France
    **Literate** American English
    Half five is totally normal to British and Irish people and means 5:30. To Americans it sounds bizarre and might be thought to mean 4:30 (halfway to five).

    I am currently living in Amsterdam where "half five" means, in Dutch, 4:30.
  27. Pedro y La Torre

    Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
    Half-five etc. is very widely used in Ireland. I always thought of it as more Irish than anything else. Good to see I was wrong. In any case, it's perfectly correct in my part of the world. I guess it probably sounds as strange to Americans as ''quarter after'' does to us.
  28. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Wouldn't an American who hasn't been exposed to Dutch or German be more likely to think that it means 5.30, given that you can say 'half past five' but not 'half to five' in English?
  29. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I don't think so. It falls into the "half full", "half eaten", "half complete" pattern for me. My mind fills in the concept "of" with "half five", so "half of five" is either 4:30 or 2.5. :)
    Last edited: May 26, 2010
  30. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Thanks. I'll remember this when talking to Americans who haven't lived in the UK. I haven't encountered problems before - I suppose context often helps.
  31. ovlover Member

    People might still understand 'half filled, half eaten and half complete' if we say it 'filled half, eaten half and completed half', half five is very likely misinterpreted.

    I have $5 in my pocket, I will give you half five. >> half five = 2.5
    I will meet her half five. >> half five = 5.30, some might understand it 4.30

    English always have inversion against my local structure, I will understand half five as 5.30 if it refers to time. I don't have problem with this... :)
  32. iskndarbey Senior Member

    Lima, Perú
    US, English
    My guess is that if you did a straw poll in the US of what time "half five" means, 80% of respondents would stare at you blankly, 19% would say 4:30 and 1% would say 5:30.
  33. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    You left out those who would say "Half five? Two and a half."
  34. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    That 1% must be the TV weather forecasters! They're always talking about the morning hours and afternoon hours (when morning and afternoon would suffice) and to them, half five would mean half-way through the "5 o'clock hour" :D
  35. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    Actually, they call it "the bottom of the hour". :)
  36. haks New Member

    Sydney, Australia
    Australian English
    Fair dinkum, really ?

    Surely the facts are that in the UK, the home of the English language, 'half five' means 5.30 and everyone understands that to be so. In at least Dutch and German, and probably in other European countries, it means 4.30.

    This way of telling the time is not used in the US, Canada (I assume ?) or in Australia and New Zealand. We all say 'half past five', right ?

    This sort of thing is so difficult for some Americans to grasp that some of our best Australian films are shown in the US with "American English" sub titles !
  37. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    In my experience few Americans actually verbalise the formula "half past", even though they have no trouble understanding it. They systematically say 5.30, 6.30 etc
  38. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    My experience is different. Plenty of Americans say "half past".
  39. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    I think you must be exaggerating there, haks. I have never seen subtitles on an Australian film.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, I believe you were the one who was quite sure it meant 4:30 earlier in this thread. ;)

    We can grasp it. We are simply pointing out that it is not something that would have been heard by most Americans and that there is a possibility of confusion.
  40. dec-sev Senior Member

    I'll re-formulate the original question. Is "half five" recommended to English learners by Cambridge University or other sources that can be considered reliable?
    The thread reminds me of this one. Some there believe that "there is things" is OK, some think that it's bad English. I'm trying to figure out if "half five" is as bad as "there is things" or not.
  41. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    I disagree. "Half five" is perfectly normal for me, and means 5:30.
  42. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    @ Decsev: Nobody who thinks one second about grammar thinks that "there is things" is OK. The only people who say that have not been taught correctly, probably very young. The same with "them things" instead of "those things". Bad grammar is bad grammar, however frequently used;
    "Half five", or any other hour, is not in the same category at all. It is not wrong, it is just a regional diminutive, not used everywhere.
  43. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    Off-topic, but I don't think the only people to say that are those who don't know any better. I wouldn't say 'there is things', but I say and even write 'there's things' all the time, and of course I know it's grammatically incorrect.
  44. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    Then stop doing so at once :eek:
  45. dec-sev Senior Member

    That's exactly what I as well as the thread starter wanted to know, namely if it's correct or not. Just put yourself in the place of an English learner and think if he needs something that grammatically incorrect but "I say it all the time"? Thank you, Gwan. Now I'll think twice before believing you.
  46. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    Well, I don't know whether to laugh or to be offended. Rest assured, I wouldn't advise a learner of English that he or she should follow my example, but unfortunately in real life people both make mistakes (whether through ignorance or habit or for some other reason) and speak non-standard varieties of English.

    PS I think 'there's things...' is a perfectly natural thing to say (still grammatically wrong of course). In a formal piece of writing, I'd correct it, but in an email or the like, I really don't care.

    Now we really are miles off-topic...
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2010
  47. Spira Banned

    South of France
    UK English
    Don't worry about it, Gwan!
    Dec-sev, just note that "half-five" is NOT grammatically incorrect, but that in many places it is not used to shorten "half past five". OK?
  48. dec-sev Senior Member

    Again, the question was asked by an English learner and he wanted to know if it was correct or not. Many here believe everything written by a native. I once came across a phrase on the Russian forum: "XXXX is an Enlgish native and I don't have any reason not to trust him". But actually the Englihs native wrote something like "if the weather will be fine, we will go...".
    If you write "It's perfectly OK to me" you should add, "but I care damn nothing about grammar". This will be the full answer.
    If you don't understand it you should neither laugh nor be offended but be ashamed of yourself.
    Next time I ask something I'll ask a person if he thinks "there's things" to be OK or not and only then will go to the question itself :D
    Spira, thank you! Judging by what you write I believe I can trust you ;)
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2010
  49. Gwan Senior Member

    Indre et Loire, France
    New Zealand, English
    Well I'm not going to argue with you about it. I can't resist pointing out that even Shakespeare made grammatical errors, including plenty of instances of subject/verb agreement mistakes (interesting article here). I know that because I actually do care about grammar and the English language.
  50. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Half five is an abbreviation. It isn't any more or any less correct than any other abbreviation.

    Abbreviations are basically slang, in the sense of a "language peculiar to a group".
    Some catch on, others don't. In other words, the initial group may enlarge to a variable extent.

    Afty for afternoon did catch on, but only in North-West England.
    Half five is now (correctly) understood by most BE speakers.
    Zoo for zoological garden caught on to the point that it's long become standard even in languages other than English.

    If incorrect means that it's derived from the alteration of some other preexisting phrase, then half five is incorrect.
    If incorrect means it isn't said nor understood by all English speakers, then here's a second reason for its being incorrect.

    Still, I'm not sure the above reasons are sufficient.

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