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)
  • 2
    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
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 16:11

9 Answers 9


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.

  • +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
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 15:48
  • 4
    @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. Commented Feb 14, 2011 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
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 16:37
  • 3
    Without any other context, phrases like "next quarter", "this quarter", "last quarter" refer to quarters of a year.
    – nohat
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 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
    Commented Jul 11, 2011 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"


"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.


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

  • 3
    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
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 13:35
  • 2
    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
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 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
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 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
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 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".) Commented Jul 10, 2011 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.

  • 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
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 at 15:11
  • 1
    @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
    Commented Feb 14, 2011 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
    Commented Feb 15, 2011 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.


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


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.

  • 1
    Just noting that a kilosecond is 16 minutes 40 seconds.
    – Qubei
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 2:40

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.


A lot of times you want to describe the purpose of the 15 minutes in some way. When the purpose is described by a noun, the adjective 15-minute can be used. For example:

a 15-minute break

I'm taking the dog for a 15-minute walk.

In Dutch you might multiply the kwartieren, for example to denote 45-minute or 75-minute periods (30- and 60-minute intervals are more commonly referred to as half-an-hour or hour, respectively). In the 45-minute case, the adjective 45-minute seems pretty common, for example:

a 45-minute class

a 45-minute lunch break

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