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Old 10-23-2010, 12:24 PM
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Time expression: "Quarter of"

This is a straightforward question, but I couldn't find anything on Google.

Stephen King's books often uses the phrase "quarter of" when giving the time, for example "quarter of three". Does this mean "quarter to three" or "quarter past three"?

Also, is this just a New England phrase? I don't think I've ever seen or heard it anywhere else.
Old 10-23-2010, 12:30 PM
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It means 15 minute to[the hour]. I grew up in California, born 1960, heard and used that way all my life.
Old 10-23-2010, 12:35 PM
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People used "quarter of" in West Texas when I was growing up, but not exclusively. Other variations were used, too.
Old 10-23-2010, 12:36 PM
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I have never figured out how "a quarter of eight" can mean 7:45. A quarter of eight is two.
Old 10-23-2010, 12:40 PM
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Seconded that it is common in California, and just for "quarter." You also hear things like "ten of [i.e., to] eight," "five of four," etc. (although I understand that 7 of 9 is something quite different).

I am British, and when I first came to California I noticed it a lot ("Quarter of four? You mean one?"), but I have gotten used to it now. I assumed it was a general USAian thing, like calling trousers "pants," but maybe not. I guess if I hear an American say "quarter to four" it sounds normal so I just don't notice it.
Old 10-23-2010, 12:41 PM
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Quarter of, to, till three = 2:45.

Quarter after, past three = 3:15.
Old 10-23-2010, 12:42 PM
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Originally Posted by california jobcase View Post
I have never figured out how "a quarter of eight" can mean 7:45. A quarter of eight is two.
Not in Metric.
Old 10-23-2010, 01:05 PM
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So, is the "bottom half" of the hour the half from :30 to :60 or the half from :15 to :45?
Old 10-23-2010, 01:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Kiyoshi View Post
This is a straightforward question, but I couldn't find anything on Google.

Stephen King's books often uses the phrase "quarter of" when giving the time, for example "quarter of three". Does this mean "quarter to three" or "quarter past three"?

Also, is this just a New England phrase? I don't think I've ever seen or heard it anywhere else.
Are people really this young? In the era before digital clocks, everybody spoke this way. Have we lost all those concepts so quickly?

Excuse me, I must dodder off aimlessly.
Old 10-23-2010, 01:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Are people really this young? In the era before digital clocks, everybody spoke this way. Have we lost all those concepts so quickly?
I dated a girl in college who went to high school with a girl who thought "quarter past three" meant 3:25. She would have been in high school between 1982 and 1986.
Old 10-23-2010, 01:10 PM
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I didn't understand "quarter of" until now! Then again, I've never heard anyone say it.
Old 10-23-2010, 01:13 PM
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Thanks everyone. I'm surprised, I had guessed that it meant "past".

Hmm...I just realised, maybe it was originally "off" rather than "of"? "Ten off five", for example, makes much more sense than "ten of five".
Old 10-23-2010, 01:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Are people really this young? In the era before digital clocks, everybody spoke this way. Have we lost all those concepts so quickly?

Excuse me, I must dodder off aimlessly.
Don't worry about being old just yet! It's a question of location, not age. I only know the words "to" and "past".
Old 10-23-2010, 01:29 PM
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It's quarter to three, there's no one in the place except you and me...
So make it one for my baby and one more for the road
Old 10-23-2010, 01:40 PM
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I've heard "quarter of" used all my life here in the Western U.S., mostly by older people. Always thought it was kind of a generalization, a foreshortened way of saying "it is within a quarter-hour of 3:00 pm" (or whatever).
SS
Old 10-23-2010, 01:43 PM
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I was born and raised in Southern California, and I heard 'quarter of' frequently. Myself, I used 'quarter to'.

I wonder if the usage is related to German? 'Quarter of' indicates a quarter of an hour until the next (stated) hour. In German, 30 minutes before the next hour is said by halb ('half') and the next hour. So 0730 would be 'halb acht'. (For other increments they use vor -- 'before' -- and nach -- 'after'. e.g., 0845 is Viertel vor neun or 1011 is Elf nack zehn.)
Old 10-23-2010, 01:50 PM
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Note that quarter of the hour is just the specific case. It's also common to hear other references - Ten of the hour, Five of the hour (or five of three), etc.
Old 10-23-2010, 01:52 PM
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Originally Posted by beowulff View Post
Note that quarter of the hour is just the specific case. It's also common to hear other references - Ten of the hour, Five of the hour (or five of three), etc.
And a German would probably say Zehn Uhr elf instead of Elf nach zehn. (Not that that has anything to do with the OP.)
Old 10-23-2010, 01:58 PM
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Upper Midwestern - when my mom was a girl the town still had a German newspaper; but never heard "of," only "tuh."
Old 10-23-2010, 02:06 PM
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AFAIK, it is standard throughout the US. On the other hand, "quarter to" is also used and understood, but much less common. One of the things I had to unlearn when moving to Canada was not to say "quarter of", since I would be asked whether that was "quarter to" or "quarter after/past". In the 42 years since, it is much better understood, doubtless owing to TV. Another one, of course, was "zed" instead of "zee", but "zee" is also more widely understood now.
Old 10-23-2010, 04:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Are people really this young? In the era before digital clocks, everybody spoke this way. Have we lost all those concepts so quickly?
I am hardly young. Definitely pre-digital clock era. I rarely heard the term growing up. I hardly ever hear at all now. Very, very uncommon. I have to ask the person what they mean because I can't recall the definition.

I also don't think it's all that geographic (in the large scale). Maybe more localized to family/neighborhood/social group.

It is a very obtuse use of terminology. "Of"? Why not say "till"?
Old 10-23-2010, 04:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Are people really this young? In the era before digital clocks, everybody spoke this way. Have we lost all those concepts so quickly?

Excuse me, I must dodder off aimlessly.
Digital clocks were certainly not the norm when I grew up; I was taught how to read a standard clock both at home and in school, and I never in my life actually heard a person say "quarter of" anything, or at least didn't until I travelled to New England for the first time. And I couldn't figure out what the hell it meant, since on the face of it (ha) it doesn't actually make any sense. "Quarter of four," it seems to me, should be 3:15 - a quarter of the fourth hour.

It's most definitely a regionalism, not a clock thing.

As to the "zed/zee" thing, c'mon, every Canadian knows what a "zee" is, they're just being picky if they object.

Last edited by RickJay; 10-23-2010 at 04:39 PM.
Old 10-23-2010, 04:40 PM
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Originally Posted by california jobcase View Post
I have never figured out how "a quarter of eight" can mean 7:45. A quarter of eight is two.
And a quarter of 4 is 1, but it's not the time of day that we are quartering, only the hour itself. So a quarter of an hour is 15 minutes. Any hour, not just 2,6, or 8.
Old 10-23-2010, 06:05 PM
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To me the weird thing is this practice got so popular despite taking extra energy, at least compared to just saying the time straight out. Hearing it requires performing arithmetic and remembering the first number; saying it requires mentally constructing this weird sounding sentence, instead of just reading out a series of numbers. The latter also has the appeal of being both curt and lazy to a stranger asking the time.
Old 10-23-2010, 06:22 PM
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Originally Posted by marshmallow View Post
To me the weird thing is this practice got so popular despite taking extra energy, at least compared to just saying the time straight out. Hearing it requires performing arithmetic and remembering the first number; saying it requires mentally constructing this weird sounding sentence, instead of just reading out a series of numbers. The latter also has the appeal of being both curt and lazy to a stranger asking the time.
No, it takes less energy and math, at least with an analog clock.
Most of the time, people are not particularly interested in an absolute time - they are interested in a delta time to some event. For example - say you have a meeting at 3pm. If you ask the time, and someone says "five of three", then you know in an instant that you have five minutes to get to your meeting. If someone says "2:55" then you need to do the calculation 60-55 to get the same information. It's the same when saying the time. If you look at a clock face, you can easily determine the number of minutes to the next hour, especially if it is past the half-hour mark. This is why the expression is only used for times greater than 30 minutes past the hour - nobody ever says "it's 45 of 3."

Remember that these expressions evolved when all clocks were analog - digital clocks make it easier to say the time precisely (but this makes it harder for the listener).

Last edited by beowulff; 10-23-2010 at 06:22 PM.
Old 10-23-2010, 06:32 PM
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I've heard and used it my whole life. California.

(The one I don't get is the British way of saying 3:5 as if that means something. Is it supposed to mean 3:05, five after three??)
Old 10-23-2010, 06:32 PM
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I have read the expression "it lacks ten minutes of three (hours)," which may have been an older, fuller version of this. As it happens, I grew up (in Southern California) saying " 'til," but I've heard "of" often enough.
Old 10-23-2010, 06:44 PM
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I grew up in the East, mainly Northeast, and "quarter of eight" was mostly used when it was 7:45.

I remember my grandmother also saying "half-past seven" instead of "seven thirty." To this day, she is the only person I have ever heard say "half-past ...".

She immigrated to the US as a very young girl from Ireland, around 1900.
Old 10-23-2010, 06:52 PM
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As an interesting aside, in Russian, times and ages are often given in a very confusing fashion. The count is given instead of the time. It's even more confusing because technically Russia is on the 24-hour clock, but this is not always reflected in speech.

For example, what literally means "The 10th hour of evening" == " some time after 9pm and before 10pm". Ages are also often said in this way "He's in his 11th year", which means he's 10.

As a child I found that unnecessarily confusing. The clock says 15:15, which means the time is 3:15 but it's the "4th hour" . I understand why it's the fourth hour, but that doesn't mean that it's convenient for communication.
Old 10-23-2010, 06:55 PM
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Originally Posted by notfrommensa View Post
I remember my grandmother also saying "half-past seven" instead of "seven thirty." To this day, she is the only person I have ever heard say "half-past ...".
I'd consider "half-past" to be as common, if not more so.

David Crystal - whose books on language I'd recommend - had a blog entry on "quarter of" and "quarter to" with some etymology. No consensus on its regional variation, though the comments parallel ours.

Quote:
The original meaning of the preposition was 'away from' (a sense today now usually found with off), as seen in such obsolete usages as not far of the town and still found in relation to compass points (eg north of London) and specified distances (eg within a mile of). ...

The usage with of is less easy to track, because it has also had a dialect use in Scotland and Northern Ireland which probably antedates the US use, though citations are lacking. The earliest OED citation for the American use is 1817.
Old 10-23-2010, 07:02 PM
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Grew up in upsate NY (Albany area). Born in the late seventies.

Quarter of was commonplace. So is five of. I think I would be more likely to say 10 till (or to) than 10 of - probably for the sake alliteration. Almost definitely alliteration now that I think of it, because the same would go for 20 to.

Half past would be normal, as would quarter after.

Top and bottom half of the hour are 0-30 and 31-59, respectively.

As to why one would say quarter of instead of quarter till - well, you say it because that's what you say. It's like calling a thing that you sit in and has four legs a chair - you do it because it's normal.

Last edited by Darth Panda; 10-23-2010 at 07:04 PM.
Old 10-23-2010, 07:29 PM
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Raised in Midwest - quarter of was common, and it meant the same as quarter to.
Old 10-23-2010, 08:06 PM
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Originally Posted by notfrommensa View Post
I remember my grandmother also saying "half-past seven" instead of "seven thirty." To this day, she is the only person I have ever heard say "half-past ...".
I don't recall ever meeting anyone who didn't say "half past". From England, if that helps.
Old 10-23-2010, 08:08 PM
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Originally Posted by dangermom View Post
(The one I don't get is the British way of saying 3:5 as if that means something. Is it supposed to mean 3:05, five after three??)
That's not something I've ever heard, and I'm English.

Three-oh-five, or five-past-three, sure. Never in my life heard "three-five".
Old 10-23-2010, 08:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Are people really this young?
No, they're from different places to you.

Quote:
In the era before digital clocks, everybody spoke this way.

No, they didn't. The people near you did.

Last edited by Candyman74; 10-23-2010 at 08:09 PM.
Old 10-23-2010, 08:20 PM
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Originally Posted by notfrommensa View Post
I grew up in the East, mainly Northeast, and "quarter of eight" was mostly used when it was 7:45.

I remember my grandmother also saying "half-past seven" instead of "seven thirty." To this day, she is the only person I have ever heard say "half-past ...".

She immigrated to the US as a very young girl from Ireland, around 1900.
We still say it in Ireland, pretty sure it's still current in UK too.


2 o'clock

five past two

ten past two

a quarter past two

twenty past two

twenty-five past two

half past two

twenty-five to three

twenty to three

a quarter to three

ten to three

five to three

Etc.

Last edited by An Gadaí; 10-23-2010 at 08:22 PM.
Old 10-23-2010, 10:44 PM
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Originally Posted by An Gadaí View Post
We still say it in Ireland, pretty sure it's still current in UK too.


2 o'clock

five past two

ten past two

a quarter past two

twenty past two

twenty-five past two

half past two

twenty-five to three

twenty to three

a quarter to three

ten to three

five to three

Etc.
I am English and would agree with the above except for the "a" preceding "quarter". It's "quarter to three" and "quarter past two".
Old 10-23-2010, 10:59 PM
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If you really want to talk time oddities, let's go with this one. Quick, it's 11:45 pm, night time, right now. How long until 12:15 pm? Half hour, right? Wrong. 12:15 happened 11.5 hours ago, at lunch time. For some reason, someone thought it was wise to make 12 come before 1. What's up with that?
Old 10-23-2010, 11:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Chessic Sense View Post
For some reason, someone thought it was wise to make 12 come before 1. What's up with that?
They didn't. The day ends at midnight, ie 12. A minute after midnight is 12.01, which comes comes after 12, logically enough. A full hour after the start of the day is 1 hour after midnight. Logically enough, that is one hour of the clock, shortened in common speech to one o'clock.

Are you seriously having trouble with this? Do you propose that we call the start of the day one hour after the start of the day? How the hell does that make any sort of sense?
Old 10-23-2010, 11:23 PM
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Originally Posted by KneadToKnow View Post
I dated a girl in college who went to high school with a girl who thought "quarter past three" meant 3:25. She would have been in high school between 1982 and 1986.
I remember my father teaching me to tell time, and since a quarter was 25 cents, it took a bit of persuading that a quarter was not 25 minutes too.
Old 10-23-2010, 11:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Chessic Sense View Post
If you really want to talk time oddities, let's go with this one. Quick, it's 11:45 pm, night time, right now. How long until 12:15 pm? Half hour, right? Wrong. 12:15 happened 11.5 hours ago, at lunch time. For some reason, someone thought it was wise to make 12 come before 1. What's up with that?
Well, you could make like power traders/schedulers and refer to times as hour ending 1, hour ending 2, etc.

It's not complicated, but it's a little confusing at first.

Hour ending 1 refers to the first hour of the day, i.e. midnight thru 1 am. So, hour ending ending 14 starts at 1 pm.

Last edited by Darth Panda; 10-23-2010 at 11:59 PM.
Old 10-24-2010, 12:23 AM
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Originally Posted by Chessic Sense View Post
If you really want to talk time oddities, let's go with this one. Quick, it's 11:45 pm, night time, right now. How long until 12:15 pm? Half hour, right? Wrong. 12:15 happened 11.5 hours ago, at lunch time. For some reason, someone thought it was wise to make 12 come before 1. What's up with that?
Using the 24 hour clock fixes this neatly.
Old 10-24-2010, 12:28 AM
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Originally Posted by notfrommensa View Post
I grew up in the East, mainly Northeast, and "quarter of eight" was mostly used when it was 7:45.

I remember my grandmother also saying "half-past seven" instead of "seven thirty." To this day, she is the only person I have ever heard say "half-past ...".

She immigrated to the US as a very young girl from Ireland, around 1900.
Really? "Half past" is very common here (Chicago), and I use it myself interchangebly with the regular "-thirty" construction. It's also memorialized in the classic (at least when I was growing up--I'm 35) schoolboy reply to "what time is it?" : "Half past monkey's ass, quarter to his balls."
Old 10-24-2010, 02:09 AM
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These things are both regional and changeable. A usage that, though not new, seems to have become more acceptable in Britain recently is saying, e.g., "half nine" instead of "half past nine." These days I hear it quite a lot when I listen to BBC radio over the internet. When I lived in Britain, 20 years ago, people might sometimes have said this in informal speech, but I pretty sure any BBC announcer who said it would have been in big trouble.
Old 10-24-2010, 02:30 AM
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Really? "Half past" is very common here (Chicago), and I use it myself interchangebly with the regular "-thirty" construction. It's also memorialized in the classic (at least when I was growing up--I'm 35) schoolboy reply to "what time is it?" : "Half past monkey's ass, quarter to his balls."
That was all familiar to me in West Texas, too.
Old 10-24-2010, 02:32 AM
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Originally Posted by notfrommensa View Post
I grew up in the East, mainly Northeast, and "quarter of eight" was mostly used when it was 7:45.

I remember my grandmother also saying "half-past seven" instead of "seven thirty." To this day, she is the only person I have ever heard say "half-past ...".

She immigrated to the US as a very young girl from Ireland, around 1900.
I was taught in second or third grade (mid-80s, living in MA) to label time as hour -> quarter past-> half past -> quarter of. We did worksheets on the concepts and everything. It's so ingrained that I'm baffled that anyone might assume that quarter of might mean 15 minutes after the hour rather than before.
Old 10-24-2010, 03:24 AM
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Originally Posted by elfkin477 View Post
I was taught in second or third grade (mid-80s, living in MA) to label time as hour -> quarter past-> half past -> quarter of. We did worksheets on the concepts and everything. It's so ingrained that I'm baffled that anyone might assume that quarter of might mean 15 minutes after the hour rather than before.
Well the problem is that as a sentence it makes no sense. Unless you are specifically familiar with the phrase then there is nothing about "quarter of" that gives a clue to what it means.
Old 10-24-2010, 06:57 AM
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Originally Posted by notfrommensa View Post
I grew up in the East, mainly Northeast, and "quarter of eight" was mostly used when it was 7:45.

I remember my grandmother also saying "half-past seven" instead of "seven thirty." To this day, she is the only person I have ever heard say "half-past ...".

She immigrated to the US as a very young girl from Ireland, around 1900.
It the south (at least Arkansas) when I was growing up in the 70's is was common to hear and say "half past seven". The one that threw me was the people who would say "half seven" to mean 7:30. I have since heard this much more from Irish and Brits.

Last edited by Outpits; 10-24-2010 at 06:57 AM. Reason: typo
Old 10-24-2010, 07:11 AM
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I grew up in Baltimore, and I've been saying "quarter of," "twenty of," "ten of," and so on all my life. Around where I grew up, I don't remember anyone saying "to" instead of "of."
Old 10-24-2010, 07:35 AM
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Back home in Texas, before dirt was invented, I remember hearing 'quarter of five' expressed as 'quarter till five.' I also remember 'quarter after five,' 'half past five,' etc., etc. Of course, we didn't have digital clocks to complicate things; we had to remember the big hand, little hand thing. Digital is better.
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