Yesterday I said: "I can't read analog clocks", but my interlocutor corrected me saying that what I was pointing at was a watch and not a clock.

Now, I am aware of the difference between the two, but how can I say I can read neither analog clocks nor analog watches? Is there a hypernym for both of them?

  • 18
    A watch is also clock. A clock is any time-keeping device, including a virtual one like the system clock that runs in the computer. The hypernym is clock.
    – Kris
    Oct 24, 2014 at 9:17
  • 10
    Just learn it, damnit.
    – Cthulhu
    Oct 24, 2014 at 14:01
  • 29
    Your interlocutor is being unnecessarily pedantic.
    – A E
    Oct 24, 2014 at 14:56
  • 6
    @CarSmack Being as pedantic as the person mentioned in the question, "analog devices" would also include books and exclude e-readers
    – Izkata
    Oct 24, 2014 at 15:28
  • 3
    You could respond that being unable to read analog clocks (even if the term does exclude wristwatches, which IMHO it does not) implies that you also cannot read analog watches. Oct 24, 2014 at 17:14

6 Answers 6


The word is timepiece:

Any device that measures or registers time; a clock or watch, especially one lacking a chime or other striking mechanism.

But it's not really used much, and as the usage notes on that page explain, your interlocutor can just as easily object that clocks are not strictly timepieces. So you can keep on looking to say something like "I can't read analog timekeeping devices" or what have you, or you might as well save yourself the trouble and simply say, "I can't read analog".

  • 2
    Oh and of course there's the side note that a real picky interlocutor might also object to your use of digital vs. analog, as many digital devices these days (PCs, phones, digital watches/clocks) are perfectly capable of displaying an analog clock face. So once again, if you don't specifically mention digital devices, but simply leave it at "I can't read analog", you sidestep that issue as well.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 24, 2014 at 17:51
  • 1. A clock is a timepiece that shows the time of the day.
    – Kris
    Oct 25, 2014 at 18:56
  • 2
    2. Today, "timepiece" is used (in the few cases) for a small clock such as a table clock, a pocket watch or such, the kind specifically called a "not a clock" in the question.
    – Kris
    Oct 25, 2014 at 19:01
  • More abstract: measuring device for (temporal) extent
    – CodeManX
    Oct 26, 2014 at 11:22
  • @Kris Yeah, this answer got upvoted but is wrong for modern English. A grandfather clock is a 'timepiece' only in the sense that they're usually antiques from another time. No one would ever call it their timepiece.
    – lly
    Aug 16 at 9:13

I can't read (the hands on) clocks.

It stands to reason that the speaker is referring to any time mechanism which uses the traditional 12-hour dial.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the 12-hour analog dial and time system gradually became established as standard throughout Northern Europe for general public use. The 24-hour analog dial was reserved for more specialized applications, such as astronomical clocks and chronometers, and timetables, especially for railway and airline travel.

Wikipedia suggests that the term clock face is used for both clocks and watches

A clock face or dial is the part of an analog clock (or watch) that displays the time through the use of a fixed-numbered dial or dials and moving hands. In its most basic form, recognized throughout the world, the periphery of the dial is numbered 1 through 12 indicating the hours in a 12-hour cycle, and a short hour hand makes two revolutions in a day. A longer minute hand makes one revolution every hour.

I suppose you could say: "I can't read twelve-hour dials" and be understood, but it's not very idiomatic.


The expression read a clock is understood to mean watches and all mechanical clocks.

On a British reality show called "I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" one contestant confesed to not being able to tell the time.

... he earned himself some airtime by admitting that he didn’t know how to read a clock-face. That didn’t matter, he insisted, because his watch — reportedly worth £70,000 — was strictly for show, and anyway it didn’t have any numbers on its dial. ‘It’s fashion,’ he says, adding that it’s ‘much easier to look at your phone’.

Source Daily Mail

Ok, earlier today I was at a restaurant and some kids (maybe highschool) asked what time it was so I pointed to a clock on the wall and they stood there sort of silent. Then I heard one say to their friends, "I'm really bad at telling time can you guys read it?"

Long story short none of them could read it but after a few minutes they figured it out. Also now that I think about it, I have overheard some teenagers talking about how they can't read a clock.

Source: www.neowin.net

Reading a Clock
Reading a clock takes practice, but after you learn how, it’s very easy to do! First, you’re going to locate the hour hand. The hour hand is the shorter of the two clock hands.

Source: wikiHow to Read a Clock

  • 1
    Why has this answer been downvoted? I don't see it... Oct 24, 2014 at 12:46
  • 6
    @GiovanniDeGaetano because my answer is not based on a single word that refers to both watches and clocks. But I can tell you one thing, for free, if you say to anyone "I can't read timepieces" people will think you are very odd. You might get away with "I can't read analog" if the context is crystal clear.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 24, 2014 at 13:20

The idiomatic way to say this (albeit not a hypernym) is

I cannot tell the time

"To tell the time" is the idiomatic (phrasal?) verb used for the activity of determining the time from an analog dial; it would not imply a digital display, nor does it suggest a watch face or a clock face. "Learning to tell the time" is a common phrase among parents of pre-school children.

Incidentally, the use of 'analog' here is unnecessary; the context of 'clock' in the phrase 'reading the time from a clock' implies that the clock is analog, and the word is unusual in non-technical contexts. It is also incongruous; generally those who cannot tell the time do not know the word 'analog'.

It appears the American English version of "to tell the time" is "to tell time".


Less casual than "timepiece" is chronometer.


"Timepiece" is the correct hypernym, but in this context you could also say

I can't read analog clock faces.

The clock face is the part of the device that you read, and it's called a "clock face" even if it's part of a watch rather than a clock. (It's also called a "dial", but saying you can't read analog dials would imply that you can't read analog voltmeters, barometers etc. either, so "clock face" is better in this context.)


I know this is very old and this will be buried at the bottom but the ticked and much-upvoted response of timepiece matches the dictionary definitions—although Wiktionary's can be at least be quickly corrected—but is completely incorrect. Not only would native speakers never say 'I cannot read a timepiece' (OP's original question) but in practice
timepiece is not the hypernym of clocks and watches.
Informal use would restrict timepiece to only smaller chronometers, and preeningly formal use would restrict it to only nonsounding chronometers or to the time display on larger clocks. There is no actual sense of timepiece in modern English where it would ever be applied to an entire grandfather clock.

Yesterday I said: "I can't read analog clocks", but my interlocutor corrected me saying that what I was pointing at was a watch and not a clock.

Your interlocutor either has poor English or was being pedantic. All watches are clocks in actual English. Clock is the hypernym of large clocks ("clocks") and small clocks ("watches"). It sometimes only means mechanical timepieces but there are readily understandable senses in which it means any timekeeping device, including sundials and waterclocks (clepsydras). There are some other actual hypernyms (chronometer, horologium, &c.) but they're all pretty uncommon and unhelpful in general use.

"I can't read analog clocks" is exactly what you should've said and you were misled that it was wrong or that timepiece would've been better, in that context or in most others.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.