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In Dutch, we have the word "kwartier" to denote a 15-minute period. It is derived from the word "kwart", which means quarter. It is very common to use this word in both spoken and written language.

Is there a similar word or expression in English (e.g. quarter)? And is it very common to use this word, or is it more commonplace to use expressions such as quarter of an hour, 15 minutes, etc.?

The scenario I'm considering in particular is that of labels on forms or in software. The 'user' has to indicate how much time was spent on something, in time units of 15 minutes. What would be the most appropriate way:

  • Time spent: # quarters
  • Time spent: # quarters of an hour
  • Time spent: # times 15 minutes
  • Time spent: # minutes (in software, make 15-minute increments the only possible way to input the time)
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From a software usability perspective, I'd say go with your fourth option. Specifying time in units of quarter-hour increments makes me think (and do math); simply rounding to 15, 30, 45, 60, ... is much more natural. –  josh3736 Feb 14 '11 at 16:11

8 Answers 8

Quarter-hour would be your best bet, although native speakers tend not to use this in regular conversation. Quarter of an hour is also correct, but, I daresay, less likely to be used. The phrase, every fifteen minutes can often be heard in everyday usage.

For the specific software situation you mentioned, again, quarter-hour would be your best bet. On its own, quarter in temporal contexts usually refers to quarter of a year.

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+1, Interesting observation, I would contend that your last sentence On its own, _quarter_ in temporal contexts usually refers to _quarter of a year_. is not entirely accurate, due to temporal contexts do not always encompass 365.24 day increments, and may indeed be restricted to periods of minutes through days. So a temporal context discussing one hour would imply that quarter means 15 minutes. Perhaps you meant something about academia? I think the important part of your post is that without specific contextual markers, quarter doesn't usually stand on its own as a temporal word? –  jcolebrand Feb 14 '11 at 15:48
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@drachenstern, "quarter" does usually refer to the (financial or academic) quarters of the year. If not in an academic, it can be assumed to refer to the financial periods. Even if you're talking about hours, you'd have to specify "or quarter thereof" (or similar) were you to try to use quarter to mean 15-minute increments. –  buildsucceeded Feb 14 '11 at 16:24
    
@ickydog But again, context would prevail, as if I were having a conversation about financial markets, then quarter is already established there. All I'm trying to say is that this is cross defined with the context being most important, if only the word quarter is used. If quarter is used with some qualifier, then there's not really a question. –  jcolebrand Feb 14 '11 at 16:37
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Without any other context, phrases like "next quarter", "this quarter", "last quarter" refer to quarters of a year. –  nohat Jul 11 '11 at 5:24
    
For the specific software problem I like the 4th option much more (15 min intervals selectable through a spinbox or combobox control). –  nico Jul 11 '11 at 5:44

"Quarters of an hour" or "15-minute periods" are the only ways I can think of. But an English speaker would be least confused by seeing a 'reduced fraction', as:

"Time spent: 2 hours and 15 minutes"

or

"Time spent: 1 hour and 45 minutes"

This might take a little extra coding, but seeing "Time spent: 12 15-minute periods" only makes sense if you always use it for one session, and one session is always 15 minutes.

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"Quarter-hour" is a perfectly good word in my English.

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And if someone asks you "How long did XYZ take you?", what would be the most 'natural' answer in your opinion: "It took me a quarter-hour" or "It took me 15 minutes"? –  Daan Feb 14 '11 at 13:35
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15 minutes is the most natural response in English [that, and an English speaker would naturally say "a quarter of an hour -much more ungainly.] –  fortunate1 Feb 14 '11 at 17:10
    
I agree with both Daan and fortunate1 that in answer to that question I would answer "a quarter of an hour" or "fifteen minutes". This has no bearing on whether or not I might use "quarter-hours" in another context, as in "My dentist allocates appointments in quarter-hours". I am asserting that in my English "quarter-hour" is a perfectly good word. Why are you downvoting me? –  Colin Fine Feb 14 '11 at 17:36
    
Yeah, who downvoted this? I actually did upvote because I don't think the answer is misleading in any way. –  Jimi Oke Feb 14 '11 at 19:57
    
There is nothing wrong with the phrase "a quarter-hour". I'd use it in "I'll be done in a quarter-hour". But it generally isn't pluralized. (2 quarter-hours would be called "a half-hour" and 3 would be called "three quarters of an hour".) –  Peter Shor Jul 10 '11 at 23:29

One of the meanings reported from the NOAD for quarter is:

  • a period of fifteen minutes or a point of time marking the transition from one fifteen-minute period to the next: the baby was born at a quarter past nine.

To be understood as meaning that, quarter should be used in a specific context; quarter (at least in American English) has other meanings (e.g., a quarter of dollar, a quarter of pound, one fourth of a lunar month, or one term of four in a college year) and without a specific context the meaning is not clear.

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In fact, as @Jimi Oke said, the default meaning of "quarter" (i.e. the meaning that is assumed if context doesn't indicate otherwise) is quarter of a year. –  Marthaª Feb 14 '11 at 15:11
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@Martha; The context is necessary in this case as well (Jimi Oke said 'temporal context', which is probably correct), e.g. "last quarter", but if you go "I found a quarter", that's almost certainly 25 cents, although I suppose you could phrase it like that when you found an opening in your calendar to squeeze in another meeting. With the Superbowl in recent memory though, there's also a good chance that you're talking about football.. :) –  falstro Feb 14 '11 at 15:50
    
Ah, and that's where it differs from Dutch :) In Dutch, kwartier always means "a quarter of an hour", whatever the context. The word kwart simply means "quarter", as in "1/4th of a whole", and can be used in any context. –  Daan Feb 15 '11 at 7:53

For a software program geared towards English-speakers, I strongly recommend against representing 15-minute intervals as anything other than 15 minutes.

That is, entering that one spent 3 quarter-hours on something is significantly more confusing that simply 45 minutes.

Linguistically-speaking, "quarter-hour" is the best, but for usability reasons, I recommend sticking with minutes.

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Those with a science fictional bent may be aware that a kilosecond (often abbreviated "kilosec") is quite similar in length to a quarter of an hour.

I've heard it in the wild a few times, but it would be a source of confusion in most contexts and would mark you as a little weird even when understood.

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I agree with Jim Oke - there is such a word - quarter-hour

“A six-man honor guard took station around the closed coffin for the first in a round-the-clock relay of half-hour and quarter-hour watches; the glittering corps (McNamara, IBM's tom Watson, Walter Reuther, Ralph Abernathy, Robert Lowell, Arthur Goldberg, Ted Sorensen, Sidney Poitier, Budd Schulberg, William Styron) was fresh testimony to the reach and the fierce allure of the Kennedys.” - Newsweek: Bobby's Last, Longest Day

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Dutch only has this shorthand solution for the quarter hour; if you want to say half an hour, you don't have the same shorthand, so you have to use all the words -- "het duurt een half" would be meaningless without strong context.

English has shorthand for neither, so you have to use all the words for both, or (without strong context) they're equally meaningless.

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