Why do we say

What time is it?

if time is uncountable? Why don't we say

What hour is it?

  • It's probably short for "What time of day is it?" – Mari-Lou A Jul 3 '17 at 21:47
  • Well, if English were, say, Spanish, I would have two meters tall, have 20 years in this country, and have 48 years old, but that's not idiomatic. – Yosef Baskin Jul 3 '17 at 22:10
  • Cymbeline Imo: "What hour is it?" (1623) – Mari-Lou A Jul 3 '17 at 22:13
  • If I had to translate de French sentence : "Quelle heure est-il ?", I'd say: "Which hour is it ?" Fortunately we aren't in France. – Baiwir Jul 3 '17 at 22:13
  • 1
    In AmE, if someone asked what hour is it and the time was 8:15, people might respond with "8", because that is the hour. If you were also interested in the minutes, why did you specify only the hour? – fixer1234 Jul 3 '17 at 23:47

It is an idiomatic English usage of time meaning both extent (of time) and point (in time) that is "hour":

Abstract sense of "time as an indefinite continuous duration" is recorded from late 14c. Personified since at least 1509 as an aged bald man (but with a forelock) carrying a scythe and an hour-glass. In English, a single word encompasses time as "extent" and "point" (French temps/fois, German zeit/mal) as well as "hour" (as in "what time is it?" compare French heure, German Uhr).


Compare also tell time:

*Keep track of the hours; also, know how to read a clock or watch. For example, This old clock still tells time quite accurately, or He taught his niece to tell time by using a cuckoo clock. This expression uses tell in the sense of “reckon” or “calculate,” a usage dating from about a.d. 1000.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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