Writing wrongs #3: time to pay attention

Expressing time is an essential part of communication – when is the event happening? When will the shop be open? What time does the free bar end?

There are a few ways to communicate time and which you choose is a matter of editorial style. Yes, you read that right: you have a choice. But just because the English gods have gifted you free will, it doesn’t mean there are no rules.

Butter oclock

If you’re feeling old-timey then you might choose to go with the rather delightful ‘o’clock’.

We’ll be churning butter from four o’clock.

For most writing, especially fiction, you should try and stick to times written out like this. It’s so much prettier. Note the use of the exact hour (you shouldn’t write four thirty o’clock, but you knew that already) and that the number is written as a word. To be more precise about the time of day: four o’clock in the morning/afternoon.

Sarah I a.m.

When you want something a little snappier to let people know exactly when something is happening, a.m. and p.m. can come in handy. Some people will mix usage between o’clock and a.m./p.m. These people are probably going through some kind of personal crisis and should be forgiven.

They stand for ante meridiem and post meridiem – before/after noon. It’s proper that they are lower case, with full-points (although some styles omit these) and that they are presented with figures like this:

I was up till 4.30 a.m. watching the new series of Gilmore Girls.

Note the space after the figure. Please, for the love of all that is true and good, note the space. Other people will try and convince you that 4am, 4a.m. or 4 AM are all correct too, and in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re being consistent. But, for the record, they will be wrong and you will be right.

NB: 12 a.m. is midnight and 12 p.m. is noon, but it’s sometimes clearer to use 12 midnight and 12 noon.

Military time

If you have a military parent like me, you will have grown up knowing to be back home by 23:00. 24-hour clock provides clarity, and is useful where lots of times are being listed, spanning the whole day.

Arrive 10:00
Balloon-animal workshop 10:30–12:30
Vegan lunch 13:00–14:00
Topiary uncovered  14:00–18:00
Champagne fountain 18:15–19:30
Thundercats fancy dress party 20:00–24:00 

You can use a full-point instead of a colon, just make sure you’re consistent.

Time for me to go. But if you’d like me to spend some time perfecting your words, get in touch, any time. #time