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The period between sunrise and noon is called "morning", between noon and sunset is "afternoon". Is there a term for the period between midnight and sunrise?

Edit/Clarification: Wikipedia defines night as "the period of time between the sunset and the sunrise when the Sun is below the horizon", and I think most people would agree (please correct me if I'm wrong). So, "night" is not the answer I'm looking for. Is there a term specifically for the period between midnight (00:00) and sunrise, excluding the period between sunset and midnight?

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    You might be interested in the discussion going on about twilight.
    – JLG
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 14:19
  • It can depend on your sleep schedule. If you go to bed after midnight, it can be called 'night'. If you get up well before dawn, it can be called 'early morning'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 14:55
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    @netvope Are you perhaps coming from another language where such a specific distinction exists? Spanish for example has madrugada, for the dark hours of the morning before cock-crow. So you get a sort of progression through madrugada, mañana, día, tarde, noche. You might say you got up at 4am not 4pm by saying you arose “a las cuatro de la madrugada, no de la tarde”. No such distinction exists in English. Cultural standards for demarcating “morning” and “afternoon” actually vary a great deal around the world, so if you are coming from another culture, these may not exactly map to English.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 16:07
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    One term I've heard used (not formal enough to give as an answer) is "stupid o'clock".
    – neil
    Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 12:45
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    @tchrist: I use madrugada in English. It's specific and doesn't get silly, like the wee hours. Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 15:41

9 Answers 9

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The term you are probably looking for is the small hours.

Collins defines this term as "the early hours of the morning, after midnight and before dawn."

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    ...or 'wee hours'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 14:52
  • Do the wee small hours last until dawn? I understand them to be 1, 2, maybe 3am and then they are no longer 'small'. Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 15:22
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    @Mitch The wee hours are the ones when incontinent drunks stumble back home in the dark.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 15:55
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    @Mitch On a related note, the OED entry for “small hours” gives “the early hours after midnight denoted by the small numbers, one, two, etc.” Interestingly, the 1st citation is from Charles Dickens in 1836: “He invited friends home, who used to come at ten o'clock, and begin to get happy about the small hours.” The 2nd citation includes “wee” in it, and is obviously related to libatious revelry :) — from Farrar in 1859: “Often would he be beguiled by his studies into the ‘wee small’ hours of night.”
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 15:58
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    'wee', though in some contexts refers to urination, here is used in it's less vulgar meaning of simply 'small'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 16:57
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In military (US) slang that period is referred to as "oh-dark hundred" or sometimes "zero-dark hundred". On the 24-hour clock the hours before 10 am start with a 0; so 1:00 am is 0100 and said as oh-one-hundred and so forth. Thus oh-dark hundred is anytime after midnight while it is still dark:

"They woke us up at oh-dark-hundred and ran us thru the obstacle course." means:

they woke us up in the wee hours of the morning before daylight.

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You can consider postmidnight. It is used as an adjective, so you would say postmidnight hours or postmidnight period.

After midnight, but generally before dawn [Wiktionary]

Examples:

On tests using flight simulators, pilots make more and larger errors when flying during the postmidnight hours.

Flying Magazine Feb 1984


I started out working the graveyard shift—the postmidnight hours that the guys with more pull and experience are eager to avoid.

Blood Secrets: Chronicles of a Crime Scene Reconstructionist By Rod Englert, Kathy Passero


German has a word for this also: Nachmitternacht. It is defined as "the time from midnight to morning" in A Dictionary of the German and English Languages (by George J. Adler). In English, I see the compound form aftermidnight also but it is not that common.

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Short answer: No. There is no common English term for the dark hours of the day that's appropriate at 12:30 AM and not appropriate at 11:45 PM.

I'm not in the military, so I'm not an expert on "oh dark hundred", but I have heard the term (and the term "oh dark thirty" which means exactly the same thing) on many occasions and would consider it inappropriate for 12:30 AM. It's closer to "unpleasantly early in the morning" than to a technical term meaning "the dark hours after midnight".

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That bit is called 'night'.

OED " the time between evening and morning."

http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/126965?rskey=JeRvu9&result=1#eid

Objectively, evening lasts until midnight, and morning begins at dawn. Subjectively, evening is between sunset and going to bed, night is while you sleep, and morning is when you wake up.

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    I believe "night" normally include the period before midnight as well. Please see my edit.
    – netvope
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 14:12
  • The OED says night is between evening and morning. It also says evening is "The close of the day; usually, the time from about sunset till bedtime." (oed.com/view/Entry/65266?rskey=oPhMtL&result=1#eid) In that sense it is as I said subjectively - that dark bit until you go to bed is evening, night is while you are asleep, and morning is when you wake up. If you met somebody at 11pm, would you greet them with "good evening" or "good night"? Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 14:28
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    In English, one can never greet someone with “good night”; it is only ever said in closing, never in greeting.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 19:06
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    Exactly! Because it is evening (hence "good evening") until you go to bed, at which point you say "good night" as you take your leave. Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 14:25
  • The link is useless for those w/o a library card, could you expand your answer a little more?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 8:32
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Morning changes to afternoon at 12:00 pm. Afternoon changes to evening when it starts getting dark. Evening changes to night more or less at bedtime. Night changes to morning at sunrise. This cycle keeps repeating.

So, your answer is night.

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    Actually, this isn’t really right. Things are not so clinical. It doesn’t need to be getting dark for it to be evening. It’s certainly evening not afternoon by 6 or 7 o’clock even if it won’t get dark till 10 or 11. And it is already morning by 12:01 am, whether it is dark or not. It doesn’t have to be light for it to be morning as more than it needs to be dark for it to be evening. It can be 2:30 in the afternoon, or in the morning. You can’t say 2:30 at night.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 19:09
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    OED says "The close of the day; usually, the time from about sunset till bedtime." so strictly speaking rudra is correct - evening is when it is getting dark. Subjectively though, I can accept that most people would say "nine o'clock in the evening" even if sunset wasn't until 10 o'clock, through a feeling that it really should be dark, and it is kind of strange that it isn't. Commented Jun 4, 2012 at 14:32
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Perhaps dawn is what you are looking for?

It's the period after night, and just before sunrise, the beginning of morning twilight. It's recognized by the presence of weak sunlight, when the sun is still below horizon.

There are also more technical definitions of dawn, available at Wikipedia.

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    Dawn is certainly part of the period between midnight and sunrise, but only a small part of it.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 19:07
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    Dawn is between first-light and sunrise. Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 23:03
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If you are up during this period, it is called

  • "staying up {at/till} all hours of the night"

If you are asleep, it doesn't matter.

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You've had dawn suggested above but predawn is closer. The beginning of the predawn period isn't well defined so may seem later than you want, but I don't see that it could be taken to be before midnight. The end is (from the definition of dawn) strictly first light rather than sunrise, but dawn is used rather vaguely. If you want a strictly demarcated period of time you'll have to define it yourself.

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