What Time Is It?

I see a lot of confusion about when to spell out the time of day and when to show it as numerals. The rules are pretty simple. You want to spell out times of day if they are in even, half, or quarter hours: “She left at seven o’clock and returned at seven fifteen.” If you want to stipulate a time of day that doesn’t follow this rule, use the numerals: “He looked at the clock and it read 6:18.”

Now, if you really want to emphasize an exact time, you can use numerals even with times that normally would be spelled out: “The store opens at exactly 8:30.”

As far as dates go, just use the numeral and don’t make it an ordinal: “He’s coming on December 5” (not December 5th). Or spell out “fifth.” If you are not mentioning the month with the day, you spell out the day: “She should be here on the sixteenth.”

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  1. What is the proper format for writing out a time in the European format of 24 hours? In some European countries, 1pm is 1300, and so forth–so what is the best way to write this out in a story? To my knowledge, many cultures that use the 24 hour clock don’t use the prefix “o’clock.”

    Would the best format be: “She left at fourteen, and returned at fourteen forty-five?”

    1. Good question. I only work in US Chicago style. I would Google your question and see what you find. Or there may be some UK editors reading this and can chime in. Do you say to someone: “It’s 1320 right now”?

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