I had a quiz and I failed because I wrote that 9.45 was "forty-five past nine" instead of "quarter to ten". I think it should have been accepted by my teacher. I searched the Internet and I found the possibility of saying so. Is it correct to say "it is forty-five past nine"?

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    I would say that technically, your answer is correct, but, as Andrew said, it's not generally spoken that way. As to whether or not the teacher was justified in marking you wrong, that depends on the motive of the question and the test. If the lesson was on normal conventions for speaking times, and the lesson material reflects what @Andrew says in his answer, then the teacher rightly marked it wrong. But if the question was a math problem (i.e., "Two trains leave New York at 7am..."), then, if I were the teacher, I'd have to let "forty-five past nine" slide, even if I'd say it differently.
    – J.R.
    Mar 1, 2013 at 10:43
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    It's grammatical, but not idiomatic. The kind of thing a spy will pay for with his life. Your teacher is saving lives.
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 1, 2013 at 10:57
  • Reminds me of this (ca.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100820085024AAF43U5) I'm sure the teacher must have mentioned the point of the lesson at some time was to understand telling time in a way that is consistent with common usage (for whatever culture that was being discussed.) Mar 1, 2013 at 15:23
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    Actually, in these days of digital timepieces, "quarter to ten" is becoming uncommon, too. We just say "nine forty-five". But without the "past".
    – GEdgar
    Mar 2, 2013 at 13:52
  • As an English Learner, you might find our sister-site, English Language Learners, to be a better fit for you.
    – tchrist
    Mar 2, 2013 at 14:42

5 Answers 5


Just because someone has written it on the internet does not make it correct.

In English speech, times up to "half-past" the hour are "past"; after that they are "to" the next hour.

When writing times in figures it's not possible to indicate "to the next hour", so with figures it's always written like "9:45". To say the time you either read it as "nine forty-five" or convert it to "a quarter to ten".

There is one very specific exception, when talking of timetables. A train which occurs at (say) 9:47, 10:47, 11:47 etc. might be said to leave at "forty-seven minutes past the hour". But this is only used for this specific timetable instance; and note that the word minutes is used — it's never just "forty-seven past ten".

[Note that American English can also use "of" instead of "to".]

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    Great answer! As a Canadian I have never heard of replacing to in time-telling but Googled it and sure enough those crazy Americans do in fact do it on occasion. News to me. The only other regional variation you missed is, Americans and Canadians never say past; instead they/we say after. Mar 1, 2013 at 13:03
  • @ShawnMooney As an American, I frequently say past, as in "half past seven."
    – Carolyn
    Mar 1, 2013 at 20:43
  • @ShawnMooney As an (eastern) Canadian I sometimes say "twenty past", though I usually use "twenty after". Perhaps I've picked up an influence from British TV though. Mar 2, 2013 at 1:55

In English we don't really say '45 past 9' for times. Times up to half past are said as '10, a quarter, 20 past, etc. Those between half past and the next hour are said as '20, a quarter, 10 TO', meaning the next hour. Digital type times as you've said are worded as 9.45 am.


In the US the younger generation is getting away from the "quarter of" format. They see almost all times as digital. So they see it in the lower corner of the computer screen, in the center of their smart phone, and in text messages or tweets. Sometimes I have even had to clarify that "Five of ten" is the same as 9:55. Also the "X of format" doesn't work with the 24 hour or military time system, nobody says "quarter of Fifteen-hundred".

In the United States "Nine Forty-Five" would have been the best answer.


Forty-five past nine is not wrong, but, in classic computer hacker jargon, it is non-canonical. That is to say, it is contrary to the usual or standard manner.


If you are putting it down on a test, or for homework, it is not advised, but for everyday use, nobody will stick their noses up at you!

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