It seems to me that "time period" is frequently used in speech and writing. But isn't it redundant?

  • These books were written during different time periods
  • These books were written at different times
  • These books were written during different periods

Not sure if this might be the best example but it seems that the same meaning can be conveyed without using time period.

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    I don't understand what any of you are talking about. If we say that two events were at different times, we mean only that they were not simultaneous. If we say that they were at different time periods, we mean something more, that the difference in time is significant because it places the events in different contexts (as an author's career, the cultural climate, the historical context). If I meant that they were at different time periods, I would not say they were at different periods; that's just not idiomatic. I would say that they were at different time periods. – Chaim Sep 5 '18 at 15:58
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    Heh heh. It's one of the things that makes my face twitch. I found the following fragment in a document that was about to be submitted to a federal regulator. "in the time period of time when it began to resume again" I replaced it with "when it resumed" – puppetsock Sep 5 '18 at 16:36
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    @Chaim I think you get the core of the question - Does the phrase "time period" have any use that can't be (better) conveyed by either just "time" or just "period" on their own. -- I think your explanation is the basis of a decent answer, if you'd care to write it up. – R.M. Sep 5 '18 at 19:31
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    Certainly "at different times" and "in different periods" have different meanings. For example, a book written in 1950 was written at a different time to one written in 1951, but they're both from the same period. – David Richerby Sep 5 '18 at 23:02
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    @Chappo I don't understand your remarks. I agree that the use of the word "period" alone might suggest menstruation, or class periods, or periods of play in some sport... The issue on the floor is not a moral debate about our attitude toward menstruation, but rather a speaker's or author's desire to be understood clearly. – Chaim Sep 6 '18 at 16:08

While period does refer to calculated time, it also refers to more organic (temporally contiguous) divisions. We reference Picasso's 'Blue Period' as a piece of time associated with when Picasso painted blue things. The length of time associated with the Victorian Period is usually stated as 1837-1901, but this is only one of many attributes of the Victorian Period/Era.

So while you're correct in theory, in practice, we use 'time period' as referring to the numerically quantifiable length of time. This sets it apart from a period's other attributes.

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    In my question I am not referring to a specific historical Period but simply as a synonym of time. Your answer doesn't address my main question, it's more a specific use of Period. – Herman Toothrot Sep 6 '18 at 9:44
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    And I'm saying that your third example is ambiguous, as you could be referring to the mathematical periods or the cultural/historical periods. So if you're trying to remove confusion or redundancy, your second and third examples are not exact equivalents. – Carduus Sep 6 '18 at 13:45

Technically, you are correct. However, the phrase is idiomatic. It sounds better than your second example, while in your third example the "periods" might be misconstrued as a reference to a hockey game.

  • I think hockey games are the last meaning you would associate to "periods", especially in countries where hockey is almost unknown. – Herman Toothrot Sep 9 '18 at 7:39
  • @HermanToothrot: With the exception of Argentina, Italy and Singapore, I don't know much about "countries where hockey is almost unknown." I hear that in such countries hockey is normally referred to as "ice hockey." Which would lead me to believe, would it not, that, since you refer to it as simply "hockey," you don't happen to be a resident of one of those countries either. I may be wrong. – Ricky Sep 9 '18 at 15:26
  • Ahah, that is a funny point. I actually didn't say 'ice hokey' because I spent time in North America. British people for example, I don't think they associate 'periods' to hockey. But maybe some native speaker will chime in. – Herman Toothrot Sep 9 '18 at 19:44
  • @British people are generally weird, and proud of it. They were among the top five hockey countries before World War II. They practically invented the game. – Ricky Sep 10 '18 at 18:23
  • What about Indian, Austrialian, and New Zealand? – Herman Toothrot Sep 11 '18 at 7:32

Paul Brians, professor at Washington State University, classifies using both as a "common error":

time period

The only kinds of periods meant by people who use this phrase are periods of time, so it’s a redundancy. Simply say “time” or “period.”

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    Well, that depends on context. In a history paper, I would call it a mistake. – Lambie Sep 5 '18 at 15:54

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