Consider a situation where a meeting is scheduled to start at 12:00 pm but one of the participants happens to appear at 12:15.

Did that individual come "in time" or "on time"? What's the difference between "in time" and "on time" as applied to this situation?

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    Hi, Omar. You ask a potentially interesting question, but by the guidelines for asking questions at this website, your question is likely to be closed because it doesn't indicate what you have discovered already about the two phrases you ask about and because it doesn't provide any context for the senses of the words as they interest you. "In time," for example, can mean "before it's too late" or "in a place where time passes regularly and systematically," and "on time" can mean "punctual" or "on the beat," among other possibilities. – Sven Yargs Apr 20 '17 at 5:19
  • @SvenYargs Yea you're right, I think my question should've been 'when to use on time and in time' I guess but anyway I still got you. So in a place where for example a meeting that should start at 12:00pm and one happens to appear at 12:15 does that mean the individual came in time? – Omar Cham Apr 20 '17 at 5:24
  • Omar, I revised your question to include the useful contextual information you provided in your comment to me. In my opinion, you still need to show what you have found out elsewhere about the differences between the two phrases in the senses relevant here, in order to avoid having the question closed for lack of research. Good luck! – Sven Yargs Apr 20 '17 at 5:34
  • "On time" means you won't be castigated. "In time" means you get to castigate someone else. – Ricky Apr 20 '17 at 6:34

I think what you may be asking is, what is the difference between:

He arrived in time for the train.


He arrived on time for the train.

In the first scenario, the message is that:

He arrived within the time allowed to catch the train.

If the train was leaving at 10:13, and the person arrived at 10:12, he arrived within the time required to catch the train.

The second example means:

He arrived at the right time to catch the train.

This could mean he arrived within the normal range of minutes before the train departed, in order to not miss the train.

Normally however, to distinguish between the two - a sense of urgency or other context is provided, consider the difference:

He arrived just in time for the train.

Here it is clear the person arrived at the last possible chance to catch the train.

Here are some more examples for on time:

  • He arrived exactly on time for the train.
  • He was always on time for meetings.
  • He was never on time for meetings.

However, as Sven mentioned in their comment, this is just one of many ways you can use the phrases.

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"In time" refers to the "necessary" time. That is, the time needed to accomplish a task. Sometimes it is an unexpected or impromptu task.

The firemen came in time to save the house from burning.

"On time" means for a "scheduled" time.

He arrived on time for the bus' 3:00 p.m. departure.

It's possible, (though not likely), to be "on time" and not "in time." That is, "He arrived on time for the bus' (scheduled) 3:00 p.m. departure, but not "in time." (The bus left 5 minutes early.)

In your example, on the other hand, the man did not arrive "on time" at 12:15 for a meeting scheduled for 12:00. But he may have arrived "in time," if others also arrived late, and the meeting actually started at 12:15.

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  • @OmarCham: You might also wait a day or so to accept an answer so that you have your choice of answers. – Tom Au Apr 20 '17 at 5:45
  • Yea it's some kind of confusing though. Even in class I asked my teacher but he couldn't figure out a rigid answer for it. – Omar Cham Apr 20 '17 at 5:46

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