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I was wondering whether a deadline is more of an instant or more of a period. It seems to have some of both aspects, but with more of an emphasis on the instant. I thought that this should be reflected in the verbs used in this context.

The total Google hit counts for "the deadline is/ends/passes/was/ended/passed on X", where X is any day of the week, are as follows:

is     509
ends    64
passes  73

was    127
ended  124
passed 181

In the present tense, there's a strong preference for "is", with "ends" and "passes" roughly similar, whereas in the past tense there's a slight preference for "passed", with "was" and "ended" roughly similar.

The present tense usage would seem to indicate that a deadline is conceived of more as an instant ("is", "passes") than a period ("ends"), but the picture is slightly different in the past tense. This might be due to the fact that in the past tense, one is often implying that someone missed the deadline, and this seems to be conveyed better by "ended" than by "was"; that could explain that "passed" is most frequent, since it combines both aspects, both referring to an instant and carrying the negative implication.

I'd be interested in any insight into this phenomenon, especially other usage examples of "deadline" that might throw more light on its being conceived of as an instant or a period. (By the way, the corresponding German "Frist" is also somewhere between an instant and a period, but here the period aspect is stronger, and in the present tense "endet" ("ends") is more frequent than "ist" ("is") by roughly a factor of 2.)

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    I have known some deadlines to drag on for weeks.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 10, 2015 at 13:47
  • While technically a deadline is an instant in time, human nature is such that deadlines are often "stretched". Additionally, human nature would suggest that some people, since they consider deadlines to be "flexible", will use deadline to mean the entire final phase of a project. I think you're looking for more precision (both in English semantics and in chronology) than there is.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 6, 2016 at 11:41

1 Answer 1

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Deadline is a date or time by which you have to complete something. Using your terminology it's an instant. Dictionaries of collocations give the list of verbs that can follow "deadline".They are "approach, expire,pass ".All combinations correspond to "an instant ".

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  • This misses the point of the question. I know what a deadline is. The empirical data clearly show that the dictionaries you cite are incomplete and deadlines can "end". Instants don't end.
    – joriki
    Oct 11, 2015 at 9:30
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    I'd say that 'the deadline ended' is simply incorrect. Obviously, if more people start saying it, at some point it becomes a valid meaning; indeed we can already understand what is meant. But I don't think we've reached that point yet, at least in the UK. Repeating your google search suggests that it may be a largely Asian or subcontinental usage.
    – JHCL
    Oct 11, 2015 at 9:53
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    @joriki If the deadline is 1500 hours, that's an instant, the end instant of the interval in which you had time to submit. The locution "the deadline ends" for "the deadline passes" may result from identifying the deadline with its preceding interval. But that doesn't make a deadline any less of an instant or more of an interval on its own.
    – deadrat
    Oct 11, 2015 at 11:15
  • The formal usage of deadline (in the field of project management) is, as @V.V. has said, a point in time - so "deadline is/was" and "deadline passes/passed". I suspect the sloppier uses of deadline, "ends/ended", which imply a period of time, come from non-formal and non-technical use.
    – John Feltz
    Oct 6, 2016 at 10:31

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