When referring to age or to periods in time, it is quite common to use expressions such as

He is in his late twenties


The best music was produced in the early eighties

I have recently heard somebody use it in the sense of

The number of shoes I own is in the late thirties/early forties.

Is that an acceptable use of late/early?

  • 3
    High and low, generally. Aug 7, 2014 at 8:20
  • 2
    Number of shoes is not about time, so naturally late has no business to be in the sentence.
    – Kris
    Aug 7, 2014 at 8:47
  • 1
    For numbers, it's high and low generally, instead of early and late. Aug 7, 2014 at 8:51
  • There's no problem with it, early can be used to show a position in a series of numbers (not necessarily time periods) so early forties is anything in the sequence 40-44, late thirties is anything in the sequence 35-39, but most people would be more comfortable with high/low as has been mentioned.
    – Frank
    Aug 7, 2014 at 9:23

3 Answers 3


This is obviously a subjective issue. The two existing answers both endorse OP's usage, but I don't.

There are various contexts where you can reasonably use a figurative temporal reference in a superficially "scalar" sense - for example, the early pages of a book (though for reasons I can't pin down, the late pages doesn't work for me, only later). But that's because we normally start reading a book at the beginning; page numbers increase as time passes.

For contexts like OP's "number of shoes" I can only envisage using a temporal reference if there's a similarly obvious link between the passage of time and an increasing scalar value. For example,...

"How many blu-ray movies do I have? Let's see - I got my blu-ray player about three years ago, and I add another disc to my movie collection every month or so. It must be up to the late thirties by now."

  • the passage of time and an increasing scalar value I think most married men know that it is a fact that as time passes the number of shoes [owned by one's wife] increases. :)
    – Frank
    Aug 8, 2014 at 13:06
  • @Frank: Very true. But I still think to "justify" a time-based quantifier you'd normally probably want/need to explicitly reference something calling attention to the connection between passing time and increasing number in the specific context. Aug 8, 2014 at 13:41

Quite acceptable. Though an unusual expression, it is something I would ascribe to someone who tries to infuse their speech with wider-than-average vocabulary and idiom, even a hint of elegance. Be careful not to overdo it though.

  • Ho hum. I must get on your nerves sometimes, but I feel I have to downvote this. To me, usages such as "The number of shoes I own is in the late thirties", or "The temperature was in the early nineties" are totally unacceptable, so -1 Aug 7, 2014 at 13:10
  • @FumbleFingers Why? You exhibit the most hideous proscriptivism!
    – WS2
    Aug 7, 2014 at 13:29
  • I know, and it does make me feel slightly uncomfortable. Usually on ELU I'm the one who sees nothing wrong with creatively ignoring "the rules". In this case, I think it's a bending of the rules too far to apply figurative "temporal" usages to simple scalar values. You presumably wouldn't accept "I own after/before 30 pairs of shoes", so obviously we agree at the margins. But you're more tolerant than me of usages that get near to that "unacceptable" limit. Aug 7, 2014 at 13:43
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers You mean "You're more tolerant than I" ;)
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 7, 2014 at 15:11
  • +1 It's not common but it's not wrong. Early can be used in series and from that late probably can too. "Near the limit" is still not "over the limit".
    – Frank
    Aug 7, 2014 at 16:24

I'm voting it up one for creative SPEECH. If it were written, I might downvote, but since P SAID that about shoes, I approve. I myself might say, "Oh, 30 and change," borrowing from monetary transactions to say I'm sure I have 30 but not yet 40.

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