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There was the following sentence in New York Times (April 12) article titled, ‘Lone Wolf’ Theory Gains Ground in Texas Deaths”

“The Kaufman County district attorney’s office is small compared with those in Houston or Dallas. It has about 13 prosecutors, and Mr. Hasse’s docket the month he was killed provides a glimpse of the kinds of cases common in the county: burglary, aggravated assault, forgery, theft of a firearm.”

Is it common in today’s English not to use prepositions such as “in,” “of,” or "during" before nouns specifying time?

I know the expressions like “It happened the day he arrived in New York” is prevalent, but does it look redundant or outdated if I put “Mr. Hasse’s docket of (in) the month he was killed ....”?

Are there any handy rules with which I can judge easily when I should use and not use prepositions before nouns of time - year, month, week, day, and hour?

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I've never noticed that phenomenon before, but yes, it is common. I am interested to read the answers. This can be done with most time markers, I think. For instance, you could put last Tuesday or next May in there and it would read fine. Also, I think we'd use for with docket. –  KitFox Apr 13 '13 at 2:19
    
Maybe this will help: english.stackexchange.com/questions/34231/… –  fluffy Apr 13 '13 at 6:58
    
That's easy, I will tell you Friday. –  Kris Apr 13 '13 at 7:46
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Funny how prepositions are so versatile. You suggested "in"; if I was going to insert a preposition there, I'd probably use "for." The more I read this sentence, though, the more it looks like sloppy writing. Its first part ("It has about 13 prosecutors") is tied more to the preceding sentence than the part about Mr. Hasse's docket. The preposition is most certainly optional, but that doesn't mean that the writing couldn't be improved as a whole. –  J.R. Apr 13 '13 at 9:00
    
I’m surprised somebody hasn’t advanced the wacko theory that these nouns-of-time are actually adverbs. I thought that would have already happened yesterday. I’ll bet they do so soon, maybe even today or tomorrow, not next month or next year. –  tchrist Apr 13 '13 at 12:20
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is a very good question and it made me do some serious digging. Here is what I found:

In the examples you have given, it is fine to use a preposition. There are cases when prepositions must be omitted and when omission is optional:

  • prepositions of time are omitted before the words: last, next, this, that, some, every (We met last month. We meet every day.)

  • "at", "on", "in" are optional in some cases (but only these three prepositions).

    1. when the phrase refers to times at more than one remove from the present: (on) the day before yesterday, (in) the January before last.

    2. in postmodified phrases containing "the" the preposition is optional in American English: We met the day of the conference., We met the spring of 1983. However: We met in the spring. (can not be omitted because there is nothing after the prepositional phrase.)

    3. in phrases which identify a time before or after a given time in the past or future: (in) the previous spring (the spring before the time in question) (at/on) the following weekend, (on)the next day.

On the whole, the omission is more typical in American English, and normally it makes the phrase less formal.

Source: A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, Longman, 1985

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Always is rarely always; be careful about putting such words in ALL CAPS, no matter what Longman might say. "We met at that very moment" is perfectly grammatical; so is, "We will visit from next Thursday until the following Monday." –  J.R. Apr 13 '13 at 8:54
    
@J.R. Very good point. You are right. I edited my answer, thanks. –  fluffy Apr 13 '13 at 8:57
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