Time of the day

Posted on Thu 17 Nov 2016 @ 9.00pm UTC

WE need to get a basic handle on how to phrase the time of the day.

Too many times the time of the day gets referenced in a variety of ambiguous terms. To make matters worse, quite a few of us have a tendency to cut things too fine with qualifiers like early, mid- and late — when perhaps the exact time (or a time range) might have done the job better.

The chart below shows phrases with time-tested meanings in commercial and weather-reporting usage.


Be realistic

Avoid using qualifiers like early, mid- or late other than the usage shown in the chart. Get the main point upfront and early — use the exact time, or give an actual time range (e.g. “between 3pm and 5pm”). Your “midafternoon” can be radically different from another person’s midafternoon.

The below are left out of the chart for good reason — they often have variable meanings according to geography, season and the local culture, and how the sun behaves in your locality:—

(Approximate times given for Northern Hemisphere in summertime)

  • midmorning — midpoint between sunrise and noon (ca. 8am to 10am)
  • late morning — roughly from 10am or 11am to noon
  • early afternoon — roughly from noon to 1pm or 2pm
  • midafternoon — midpoint between noon and sunset (ca. 3pm to 5pm)
  • early evening — roughly two hours after sunset

For instance, the phrase late afternoon can be exceedingly ambiguous in wintertime. In many places, the winter night falls almost suddenly so the winter evening covers late afternoon (see chart) — in other words, there is no late afternoon in winter.

Ambiguities in other time references

Time of the day isn’t the only thing we are ambiguous about in our phraseology. We stray into head-scratching territory when we start using these multi-meaning terms:—

  • semi-weekly vs. biweekly vs. semi-monthly vs. bimonthly
  • semi-monthly vs. biweekly vs.bimonthly
  • semiannual vs. biannual
  • etc

Those words will be the subject of a separate post.


© Learn English or Starve, 17 Nov 2016. (B16297)
Chart © Learn English or Starve, 17 Nov 2016. Free to share and reuse with attribution.

Featured image via the Hwb.

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Posted in: Colour Section