Telling the time. It is twenty minutes of nine.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by SharifArtan, May 16, 2007.

  1. SharifArtan New Member

    Netherlands, Dutch
    What does this sentence mean regarding time announcement:

    It is twenty minutes of nine.

    Is it twenty minutes to nine o'clock? Or Is it twenty mintutes after nine o'clock? Thanks for your comments.
  2. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English

    It is twenty minutes of [to] nine.

    It is twenty minutes past [after] nine.

    It is a quarter to six (15 minutes to 6).

    It is half past five (5:30)
  3. Suehil

    Suehil Medemod

    Tillou, France
    British English
    'Twenty minutes of nine' is the American way of saying it. BE is 'twenty to nine'
  4. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    Actually, as an AE speaker, I've never heard of it (20 minutes of 9) before myself.
  5. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I've never heard "twenty minutes of nine" before.
    Who wrote it?
  6. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    I have heard this many times. The "of" here means before -- "I'll be there around a quarter of nine" means "a quarter [hour] to 9:00"
  7. Matching Mole

    Matching Mole Senior Member

    England, English
    That's interesting. I was taught a long time ago that AE speakers say "of" instead of "to" when giving the time, but I don't really seem to recall hearing it, despite having heard innumerable hours of American drama and having read 100s of American books. Maybe I just don't notice, but it does seem an exceedingly awkward way of putting it.
  8. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    Matching Mole, if you want an awkward way of putting something, how about "half six"? I have no idea whether this means 6:30 or 5:30.....
  9. I_like_my_TV Senior Member

    I believe (I don't use it myself) it is 6:30
  10. The Scrivener Banned

    On the "naughty step".
    England. English
    I believe this is an archaic usage. It is twenty minutes (off) of nine.

    Half six is a British colloquialism for 6.30. Used very frequently.
  11. marget Senior Member

    I myself see nothing archaic in saying "twenty minutes of nine" . Maybe I'm archaic!:( I would usually leave out the "minutes" and simply say "twenty of nine" or if the exact hour is understood, I'd say "twenty of"
  12. The Scrivener Banned

    On the "naughty step".
    England. English
    Sorry. I was referring to British English, where we don't say this, but I feel we may have done so in the past. Just as we used to say, "It is nine of the clock".
  13. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    It must be a regional variation. I've never heard this usage before.
  14. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    Many "Americanisms" are in fact American retentions of former British usages. This seems to be one of them, as can be seen by the following bit of testimony taken from the proceedings at the Old Bailey (the criminal law courts in London) on July 1st, 1801:
    And here is more testimony from February 15, 1797:
    The expression appears originally to have been "to want (that is, to lack) ____ of" the hour named, and over time the "want" has dropped off. Thus, what would have been "it wants twenty minutes of nine" has become "it is twenty minutes of nine".
  15. InsultComicDog Member

    USA, English
    I wouldn't say "twenty minutes of nine," just "twenty of nine."

    (Which means twenty minutes before nine.)
  16. Musical Chairs Senior Member

    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    These things annoy me. It's much easier and clearer to say "eight forty."
  17. The Scrivener Banned

    On the "naughty step".
    England. English
    Thank you for these examples, GreenWhiteBlue. I've read quite a few non-fiction books from the Georgian era and that's no doubt where I recall this usage from. That's why I said it is now archaic in Britain.
  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    That simply reflects what you are used to.

    Here, despite many years of experience of digital timepieces, we still say twenty to nine, twenty past nine ... and so on. Speaking time in the digital form happens, of course. But it is no easier, and no clearer, than the alternatives. In fact, for those of us accustomed to the "XXX to, XXX past" way of telling the time eight forty is quite meaningless and has to be converted to a real time.
  19. SwissPete

    SwissPete Senior Member

    94044 USA
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    I have never worn a digital watch, but I use "eight forty". If your train leaves at 7:38, would you say "twenty-two to eight"?
  20. Musical Chairs Senior Member

    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    Exactly what I mean. I always say it the way with only numbers. My dad says it the confusing way with halfs and quarters and it's annoying.

    (And no, I've only heard it with multiples of five.)
  21. InsultComicDog Member

    USA, English
    Quarter of, quarter after, half past... these are still all frequently used.

    And it's not all that common but I do sometimes hear "17 of" meaning 17 minutes before the hour.

    Speaking of which, sometimes on a show that is broadcast live to several time zones simultaneously, you might actually hear "it's 17 minutes before the hour."
  22. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English

    If you grew up with digital, it is easier.

    If you grew up with analog, then you will have a visual, instead of a numerical model for the clock. Then "a quarter of" makes more sense.

    Also, I fear that the digital generation will lose the "clockwise/counter clockwise (anti-clockwise, in BE) terminology.

    And learning to drive a car will be much harder for them too: "Grab the steering wheel at ten o'clock and two o'clock" ("You mean I have to sit here for four hours holding the steering wheel?!!").
  23. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    From my son's second grade Saxon math folder:

    one forty-five
    quarter to two
    quarter of two

    Both "to" and "of" are taught here.
  24. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    I use the digital and analog forms with equal ease, depending on various things - ease of expression, the particular situation, what kind of clock I'm looking at, what I want to emphasize, etc.
    Six forty-five and quarter to seven both mean the same to me and I don't have to think about it.
    However, I've never heard quarter of seven before, and although I've heard quarter after seven from Americans this form is not used in the UK.
    From my point of view, there's nothing confusing about twenty to nine whether you're used to digital or analog clocks - it means there are twenty minutes until nine o'clock.
    Digital and analog forms seem to make equal sense to my Spanish students too.
  25. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    No, indeed not, it leaves just before twenty to eight :)
    I would quote the precise time as seven thirty-eight, but in my head it would be converted to the visual clock.

    There is more going on here than simply the words we use to express the time. Those of us brought up in the age of analog time have a very clear concept of how long it takes for that big hand to move from one position to another. So the visualisation of the times gives a very clear perception of the duration of time. Digital times just don't do that for me. It is, in a way, like the perceptual difficulties people have with a different currency in a different country.

    (Edit - liliput is obviously a great deal younger than I am.)
  26. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    I think your fears are unfounded, I have three watches and several clocks with analog faces, I don't think we'll ever see digitals completely replace analogs. Apart from anything else I think most people find an analog face more stylish.
  27. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    Race car drivers experimented with digital tachometers for a while but the drivers complained that it was too hard to read quickly. They were looking for the visual position of the needle for instant recognition. The digital version required that they think about numbers. Much slower.

    The same is with people brought up on analog clocks. I don't "read" an analog clock, I get an instant impression of the time.

    The digital time needs to be processed in my mind in order to be comprehended. In a way it is like speaking a foreign language. Initially you translate the foreign language into your own language and then back into the foreign language. Eventually you get to "think in the foreign tongue". Well, I "think" in analog. I translate into/from digital.
  28. konungursvia Banned

    Canada (English)
    It is very old, and "of" means "from", in other words, "until".
  29. AWordLover

    AWordLover Senior Member

    Atlanta, Georgia USA
    USA English

    I was surprised that not every native AE speaker is familiar with this usage, I just found a college student who did not know the meaning of "tweny minutes of nine".

    I suppose it is not so surprising that generational and regional variations could make this usage uncommon for some groups.
  30. SwissPete

    SwissPete Senior Member

    94044 USA
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    So, did you hear about the train that stopped at the station from two to two to two two?
  31. cesrob Senior Member


    I've always heard "a quarter to/past eight" but today I read "why was she out of breath at quarter of eight in the morning?".
    Does "quarter of eight" means 15 minutes before or after eight? Is it commonly used?

  32. tepatria Senior Member

    Onondaga, Ontario
    Canadian English
    "A quarter of" the hour means fifteen minutes before the hour. It is used more commonly by the British, but I do occassionally hear it here.
  33. petereid

    petereid Senior Member

    selby yorkshire
    I'm English, and I would not know what it meant.
  34. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    As usual, I agree with you Peter. I had assumed it was an AE usage - just because it was unfamiliar to me when people started using it in the UK: not very good grounds, as AE speakers frequently protest. I've noticed some Radio and Television announcers are adopting it now. If it didn't come from America, I wonder who is responsible for it?
  35. dragonfly37

    dragonfly37 Senior Member

    U.S.A., English
    Yes, it definitely doesn't come from AE... I've never heard that, and would think it sounded wrong if I did. In my knowledge, it's always, "A quarter to eight." "A quarter of" something to me means 1/4.
  36. AWordLover

    AWordLover Senior Member

    Atlanta, Georgia USA
    USA English
    Hi All,

    This was discussed extensively...........

    <<Thank you AWL - the threads have now been merged.>>
  37. dragonfly37

    dragonfly37 Senior Member

    U.S.A., English
    Ahh, having read that thread, I get it now. I suppose it is AE, but I never hear "a quarter of eight" in the full form (didn't recognize it!). However, it's very common to say, "It's a quarter of." (the hour being assumed).
  38. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I find it hard to reconcile the general AE protestations of innocence about twenty minutes of nine with this post of Marget's. Could it be an East Coast-West Coast divide?
  39. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    I gave my brother a birthday gift before he went to college. It was a pocket watch exactly as I carried.

    He had it for 2 years and then dropped it. The crystal fell off, which he was able to put back in place. The hour hand fell off too and he could not do anything about that.

    He carried the watch for another 2 years with just the minute hand. He lived with "ten to", "a quarter after", "half past", for 2 more years, until I got him another watch for his graduation.

    He claimed that most people know what hour it is; keeping track of minutes was all that was really needed.
  40. marget Senior Member

    Just for the fun of it, I'll say, yes, I did hear the one about the train that stopped at the station from two to two to two two, too!:)
  41. Randisi. Senior Member

    Dalian, China
    American English; USA
    I say "a quarter of nine," and I've lived half of my life on each coast! And my Dad is from western Tennessee. I think it's a little more common in the US than our linguistic pundits would like to admit.

    Actually, I don't really say it anymore. I've gone digital! These days I have to make an effort to say "a quarter of" instead of 8:45.

    Of course, there's always 'til as in "twenty 'til nine." But perhaps that should be the subject of another thread.
  42. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)


    [edit] Rethinking this post... I'm getting very strange results from Google searches. For example, "quarter of three" - 792 hits, "a quarter of three" - 322,000 hits. How can there be more hits for "a quarter of three" than "quarter of three"?
  43. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    "A quarter of three" is the idiomatic way I would phrase this.

    "Half past three"

    "Ten to three"

    "Twenty after three"




    (I love to use "noon" and "midnight". There is no confusion as you might have with 12:00 PM; 12:00 AM).
  44. Sprache Senior Member

    United States
    No. That is never said here. I've never heard that in my life and I didn't even understand it myself.
  45. Randisi. Senior Member

    Dalian, China
    American English; USA
    That is never said here?

    I say it. I asked several people I encountered today about it. They say it too. I think it's only new to you because most people these days (in the US, at least) give the time digitally.
  46. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English

    I would say, "Twenty to nine"

    But I would say, "A quarter of nine"

    I would never say, "Fifteen to nine" or

    "Fifteen after nine"

    Only "a quarter to" or "a quarter after" and never "a quarter past".

    I have no idea why though.

    It is not very consistant, but I toyed with the words and that is how is would come out of my mouth.
  47. EFDisaster New Member

    US English
    I grew up in the New England (Northeast US) and have always used "quarter of," "twenty of," "ten of," "five of," etc. But for times after the hour, I've either said "ten past" "quarter past" or just read the whole time (7:10 = "seven ten" or 3:15 = "three fifteen").

    I've recently moved to the Chicago (Central US / Midwest) area and no one understands what I'm saying when I use of... so it's definitely regional. Everyone here seems to use 'til.
  48. Albert Schlef Senior Member

    Thank you for explaining the historical origin.

    Now, I'm curious:

    Suppose this fellow from 1801, who uses "want" and "of", wanted to say that we should meet at 8:45. How would he say this? Would he say --

    • "let's meet at a quarter wanting of nine"? Or:
    • "let's meet at a quarter wanted of nine"? Or:
    • "let's meet at nine wanting a quarter"? Or:
    • something else?

    (BTW, I was not aware of this discussion (7 years old as of this writing) and needlessly opened a new one; sorry about that.)
  49. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    That's OK, Albert. It's not always easy to search for these things.

    As far as I know from old novels and so on, the format for the wanting way of discussing time was always "it wanted a quarter of ___[hour]." I suppose sometimes it must have been something besides a quarter - a half, maybe - but I've never run across that. In any case, I've never seen the expression altered in any way, and that includes the alternatives you suggest.
  50. funnyhat Senior Member

    Michigan, USA
    American English
    Yes, to/til is common around here. "Of" is definitely uncommon in my experience, to the point that when I read the title of the thread, I did not know if it meant 8:40 or 9:20.

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