In this question on Server Fault, the asker says "And it works fine, but that's a ponctual solution..." and corrects himself in a comment, using "punctual".

I've only ever used "punctual" to mean "on time." Can it also mean "ad hoc"?

From dict punctual:

From The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.48 [gcide]:

Punctual \Punc"tu*al\, a. [F. ponctuel (cf. Sp. puntual, It. puntuale), from L. punctum point. See {Point}.] 1. Consisting in a point; limited to a point; unextended. [R.] "This punctual spot." --Milton. [1913 Webster]

         The theory of the punctual existence of the soul. --
   [1913 Webster]

5 Answers 5


The other meanings are rarely used.

A search for punctual in the COCA brings 217 results. Out of the first 30 results, only in 2 or 3 the meaning is not "on time". The other meanings are (from the Webster's 1913 Dictionary) :

  • Consisting in a point; limited to a point; unextended.
  • Observant of nice points; punctilious; precise.

The author of the post in Server Fault probably meant that the solution that he had used only applied to a particular problem (a particular script) and that he was looking for a more generic solution.


I was wondering whether the person asking the question meant 'perfunctory' or perhaps 'pedantic', but those don't quite work in the context. I think the choice of adjective is dubious by someone who self-confessedly is not a native English speaker. Finding the right word to replace 'punctual' is tricky. The trick described as a 'punctual solution' is an effective hack; it is also slightly messy because it requires changes.


In common usage, punctual means not late while ad hoc means when necessary (only for a particular purpose) or not planned in advanced. These mean rather different things.

  • 2
    "Ad hoc" doesn't mean "when necessary". Commented Dec 12, 2010 at 3:10
  • Ad hoc means for a particular purpose only, not when necessary. The meaning of a Latin phrase is not necessary kept, in English.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 8:10
  • In all IT departments I have worked in since 1986, to run a job ad hoc was to run it outside schedule, when we felt like it. I have actually a few hours ago requested an ad hoc run of a computer program that normally runs every Wednesday evening but which I needed an operator to start today
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jul 12, 2011 at 16:34
  • @kiamlaluno: It also means not planned before it happens, which is the same as when necessary (or more clearly as and when necessary), at least in this context.
    – psmears
    Commented Jul 13, 2011 at 14:25

Punctual music is a name sometimes used for twentieth century art music composed using certain types of methods associated with total serialism. These techniques have nothing to do with impressionist painting, even though the movement has been called pointillism as well as puctualism. This is related to the meaning, "Consisting in a point; limited to a point; unextended." (from the Webster's 1913 Dictionary) , because it refers to music where each note (or event) is treated separately as opposed to being part of larger entities.



Punctual means "spot on" or "on point." It usually refers to being exactly "on time," but could have other meanings like being exactly in the right PLACE.

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