Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

June 4, 2009

Some ways of expressing time.

Filed under: Improving English language skills — rliberni @ 8:54 pm

Time is quite an important concept in Western culture: this can be seen in our tense systems. Compare this with some Asian languages where time is expressed by time words rather than changes made at sentence level. As a result we have many different conventions for expressing time.

Here is a selection:

Approximate times

  • about                   about 4 o’clock
  • shortly after     We arrived shortly after/shortly before midnight.
  • shortly before
  • ‘ish’                       We’ll start about 9 ‘ish’
  • just after
  • just before         I got here just before/just after nine o’clock.
  • just gone            It was just gone six o’clock when we took our seats.

 Periods of the day

  • dawn                  When the sun rises
  • dusk                    When the sun sets
  • daybreak            dawn
  • first light             daybreak
  • twilight               as the sun sets

 Time as a modifier

  • a morning’s work
  • the eight-forty train
  • the ten o’clock news

 Prepositions with time

  • after                (I can meet you after 10 o’clock.)
  • by                     (I’ll get there by 6 at the latest.)
  • at                      (The film starts at 2 p.m.)
  • until/’till          (It won’t finish until/’till late.)
  • before               (The room is unavailable before 12.00.)

Frequently asked- the difference between in time and on time 

  • in time means not late – He arrived in time for the meeting.
  • just in time means very near to the start time – He arrived just in time to catch the train. (He didn’t miss it)
  • on time means punctual – David is always on time. (we wouldn’t use just with ‘on time’)

 Note: do not use a.m. or p.m. with o’clock!



  1. a few more expressions:
    quarter past 10
    ten (minutes) to nine

    Comment by Deepak — February 4, 2010 @ 6:39 am | Reply

    • Thank you for adding these Deepak.

      Comment by rliberni — February 4, 2010 @ 9:00 am | Reply

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