Working many years in the legal field, I've seen the phrase, "time is of the essence," many times; I fully understand its meaning. What has always bothered me, though, is that the phrase doesn't seem to parse.

How can time be "of" anything? This phrase invokes time, itself, as a concept, in a way that "time of day" or "time of your life" does not.

And how can anything be "of the essence" of something else?



Only a prepositional phrase can substitute for an adjective:

  • Time is highly important -> Time is of great importance.

  • Time is essential -> Time is of the essence.

As for how "of the essence" should be interpreted, within the context of a contract I understand the sentence in question as meaning:

  • Time is essential to this contract.
  • 1
    Gustavson, it's best if you copy the contents of the comment and include that text in your answer. – aparente001 Jul 4 at 4:13

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