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What is the most common way to express 2:45, using quarter, in the US?

  • Quarter of three?
  • Quarter to three?
  • Quarter till three?
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3  
I don't think there is a definitive answer to this. The US is so big and it contains so many regional dialects of English. I grew up in New York and live in Arizona now, and I typically say "quarter of ..." when I'm not specifying a particular hour. But use "quarter to" when specifying an hour, unless it is a "special hour" like "midnight" or "noon" in which case I say "quarter 'til midnight" and I never say "half past" in any form, I always say "xxx thirty." I also say, "ten/twenty after" and "ten/twenty of" even when specifying an hour and never say "ten to" in any form. –  Jim Mar 22 '12 at 7:01
    
ran out of room... unless I'm aiming at an alliteration like "ten to two" or "two to two" which I often do. ;) –  Jim Mar 22 '12 at 7:03
    
All three sound just fine. 'til' takes longer to articulate so probably wouldn't be spoken as often. –  Mitch Mar 22 '12 at 11:37
    
where I am at: till ta and to are the exact same utterance until someone has to write it down :) –  horatio Mar 22 '12 at 18:18

3 Answers 3

The data in the Corpus of Contemporary American English shows the most common preposition for 15 minutes before the hour is to.

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I think with the ubiquity of digital clocks, it is much more common for Americans to just say the words "two-forty-five." (I know my teens don't ever say "quarter to" or "quarter after.")

But, just as Brett Reynolds' answer showed, the NGram for "quarter of three, quarter to three, quarter till three (and variations)", using the corpus American English from 1800 to 2008, shows that quarter to three is much more commonly used than quarter of three.

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A problem with Ngrams is that they search only written works. Something informal could be spoken more frequently than written. –  J.R. Mar 22 '12 at 15:32
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I agree that "two-forty-five" is much more common with young Americans than "quarter-to-three." –  amcnabb Mar 22 '12 at 18:08
    
Interesting tidbit... my mother taught first grade for years, and she saw a definite drop in the number of students who understood what the directions "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" meant. She blamed digital clocks. –  JLG Mar 22 '12 at 18:22
    
I would never say any of these and would always say "two forty five". –  David Schwartz Mar 23 '12 at 3:29

My first inclination? I thought I'd be likely to say quarter 'til twelve -- but I wasn't entirely certain. So, I pulled a clock from the wall, and surveyed some coworkers. Most of them said "11:45," but then I pressed for an alternative answer. The results of this unscientific poll:

Quarter 'til twelve: 3 respondents 
Quarter to twelve: 1 respondent
Confused stammering: 1 respondent

In the ensuing discussion, one person remarked that, in conversation, what's often spoken is an abbreviated, contraction-like form: quarter t' twelve, where the t' is pronounced with a schwa sound (i.e., with a very quick tuh), where it might be hard to distinguish if the person was intending to say "to" or "'til."


Some footnotes:

  1. I think I'd be more likely to speak using the 'til form than write it that way, which might explain why my ears perceive differently than my eyes read.
  2. As Jim said in his opening comment, there are several dialects in the U.S., so this might be localized. The one "to" respondent in my survey hails from a different state than the three who said "'til," and he just moved here a couple weeks ago.
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protected by RegDwigнt Mar 22 '12 at 12:54

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