When telling the time, are the following expressions legal or natural to native speakers:

e.g.: 1. It's thirty past six (without adding "minutes"). 2. It's half an hour past six (adding "an hour").

Also, are there any difference or restrictions between using after and past (Are they ALWAYS interchangeable)? And is it common to use preposition to in "It's twenty-three to seven"(weird for me because 6:37 is definitely more straightforward, so why bother say it the other way round)?


No-one says “thirty past”, perhaps because it is equidistant with “thirty to”, something else no-one ever says. It is always half past. You can of course say 6:30, though, which is pronounced “six thirty”.

It doesn’t matter if it “seems more straightforward” to you to use numbers greater than thirty for minutes, because in fact one never does that when saying something like “twenty of six”. If you said 5:40, that’s of course different. It can’t be “forty after five o’clock”; it can only be “twenty to six” or “five forty”.

People wouldn’t normally say “twenty-three to seven”, because that’s too precise for most clock-reading on a normal dial, or for most people’s purposes. One would just say “it’s about/almost twenty to seven”.

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  • So how about "thirty after six", "a quarter past (or after?) three"? Thanks. – Andy Cheng Apr 18 '13 at 2:38
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    @AndyCheng People just don’t ever say thirty after six: they say half past six. There is no thirty after. There is no thirty past. There is no thirty to. There is no thirty of. There is no thirty. But you can say a quarter to (or of) three, or a quarter past (or after) three. – tchrist Apr 18 '13 at 2:40
  • "Buses depart at the top of the hour, fifteen past the hour, thirty past the hour, and forty-five minutes past the hour." google.com/… – Kris Apr 18 '13 at 5:31
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    versus 300 million results for "half past". – Peter Shor Apr 18 '13 at 11:08
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    And similarly, one would never say fifteen past or fifteen to but quarter past/to instead. You would only specify minute values like fifteen, thirty or forty-five when saying the hour first, e.g. six thirty. Awkward numbers like twenty-nine would be fine this way too: we might say six twenty-nine (if reading a digital clock) but never twenty-nine past six unless for deliberate comic effect. – njd Apr 18 '13 at 11:40

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