# What unit do you describe when talking about relative time?

In the same format a microwave puts things (as in, an amount of time from the present and not part of standard time), this should be able to be written in sentence, but I'm unsure which unit to use. Example:

"1 minute and 30 seconds" In microwave-esque time format would be 1:30 If you need to mention specific the units here, would you write: "1:30 Minutes" or "1:30 Seconds"?

Or

"3:20:32 Hours" or "3:20:32 Seconds" ?

Should it be the largest of your quantity described, or the smallest quantity described, assuming the colon indicates one unit up?

• There are very different standards in different contexts. Is this in a recipe? I don't think either of your options are very common. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:15
• In this case it pertains to video games. Often in games you have cooldowns that last a certain time after an ability is used, and will read "Ark blast [Cooldown 120 seconds]" or something similar, but could also be written "Ark blast [Cooldown 2:00]" which is more common if its a live-updated one that will show the live value until it hits 0. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:31
• In this context I would express the time remaining in only one unit: hours, minutes or seconds as it gets shorter. For example switch from hours to minutes at 2 hours, and from minutes to seconds at 2 minutes, stating the unit. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:48
• I'd write 1'30". That's traditional navigation usage. It might not be well known to videogamers yet but here's your chance to introduce it to them. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 16:29

## 1 Answer

There are different conventions for referring to an amount of time versus a point in time.

An amount or length of time needs to specify all units. One day, three hours, four minutes and twelve seconds is an amount of time, and can't be abbreviated. You can change the unit by doing the math. In this case you could say 97,468 seconds. You could also say 1.13 days.

A point in time can list the smallest unit alone. The day of January 26 is valid, as is the month of June, 2022, or the hour of 3pm, January 12, 1986. It would make no sense to say the year of October, 2021 or the day of noon on the 26th.

• In other words: what the OP is trying to do cannot be done, because the colon in numerical specifications of time periods does not function in the same way as decimal points. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 16:15
• @jsw29 I'd say the colon does have a similar function. The problem is that the overall terms function differently: one is a quantity, and one is an address. A partial address can often be converted into a completely precise address by appealing to context, while a quantity cannot. If part of a quantity is omitted (either by rounding or truncation), there is no generally available way to recover that data later.
– Tom
Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 16:35