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What does the “o’” in “o’clock” stand for? I’ve heard it means “of the”, but that sounds odd. “I’ll meet you at two of the clock”. Perhaps it means “on the” which makes more sense to me. “I’ll meet you at two on the clock”

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"o'" is a contraction of "of the", not "on the". As in "What of the clock?" "It is nine of the clock". Archaic, which is why it sounds funny.

Dave September 28, 2005, 12:28pm

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I disagree. It means 'off the clock' from olden days when hours were counted off the clock

pga September 28, 2005, 4:41pm

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it's 'of the'. no arguments, no questions, no whining, nothing. google it - everywhere you go will tell you the same thing.

jason September 28, 2005, 7:47pm

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While all of those explainations are quiant... they are all wrong. Truth is "O" is an Irish contraction of "Son of", as in O'Grady... therefore, o'clock means "son of the clock".

Gravy September 28, 2005, 8:38pm

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AHAHAHAHAHA....I'm sorry Gravy, but you made me laugh my ass off. It's not son of the clock, nor was it ever that. It's 'of the clock'. However, no one except some adults say it's 9 o'clock. Most everyone says 9 p.m. or a.m. Whichever. And Irish have nothing to do o'clock.

Mikahbot September 29, 2005, 12:18am

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I was told that it came from German, and means "of the clock."

Specialk September 29, 2005, 12:41am

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Of the clock, duh.
As opposed to 2 of the whatever else.

English peasants were dumb and might have gone to 2 of the address if it wasn't specified

Ben September 29, 2005, 6:42pm

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I also heard it means "of the" and it came from old English. I know Americans say "It's a quarter of" rather than "a quarter to".
Also, as an Irish person I can assure you that it certainly does not mean "Son of" as Gravy suggested. I can only assume that he was joking.

grasshopper October 1, 2005, 5:36pm

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O'clock would come from French "à la cloche" (which means at the bell). When people didn't get watches and clocks at home, they would rely on the bell ringing from the bell tower ... so it was said it is nine "à la cloche" (at the bell) and with time became more and more transformed into the English form `"o'clock". like ivoire became ivory, folie gave folly, parlement became parliament and so many others...

Gilles B. October 3, 2005, 9:12am

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Sorry Specialk, im pretty sure its not German. i am German, and I have never heard of a similar term. I can just think of "Glocke" that has more or less the same sound. it means bell and doesnt have anything to do with the "o" or the clock. i think the "of the" sounds pretty logical ...

Julia October 4, 2005, 6:18pm

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Actually, it's funny you should say that, Julia. The English word clock and the German Glocke are cognates. More precisely, clock is from the French cloche which means bell also, and is a cognate with the German word, both from the latin glocio

porsche October 21, 2005, 1:09am

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of course "of the clock" im a linguist

deniz1903 December 12, 2005, 2:23pm

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Yes, it's "of the clock".

But the O' in O'Malley does not come from "of"; it comes from Irish Gaelic "au" meaning "grandson".

Chris February 18, 2006, 3:43am

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I got on to this as I was looking for something completely different...

On engineering drawings you'll always see "manufacture 5 off", and never "5 of", for a quantity of 5 items. I think this has to do with "5 items off the drawing, or bill of materials", which leads me to believe that Peter is the only person here who got it right.

Anyway, suppose you shouldn't trust an Afrikaans speaking engineer to advise on the subtle aspects of English.

william.hunter April 21, 2006, 10:17am

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i was taught that the "o" in O'clock standed for over as in over the hour.

burgz April 22, 2006, 12:11am

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Iam doing a report for school and I need to find the right answer I will report again and reveal the real answer. I say it's "of the".

Sarah P. May 15, 2006, 8:53pm

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It is weird.

Josh May 15, 2006, 8:57pm

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I called one of my clients the other day to confirm an appointment.
I said "Ill see you at 11 of the clock".
She said "Oh you would like to meet at the clock tower?"
I said "NO, eleven of the clock.
"You know 11 O clock."
"Oh now I understand."

JER May 15, 2006, 9:14pm

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O'="of the"

melmghrbe May 29, 2006, 3:04pm

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Gohai, who told you Americans say "a quarter of" instead of a "a quarter to"? I'm American, born and raised, and have never heard that before. Perhaps it's regional.

Travis May 31, 2006, 5:09pm

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I've noticed myself saying "quarter of" or "quarter till" under the presumption that the listener knows the hour, but saying "quarter to" if I feel they are clueless about the hour ("quarter to nine").

I've lived in many parts of the US and heard all three versions regardless of whether or not the hour is stated.

brixen_ivy June 2, 2006, 7:33am

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"what time is it?"

"ten to."

"ten to what?"

"tend to your own business!"

porsche June 2, 2006, 10:09am

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Im back from school and I have the real answer i is of the clock.

Sarah P. June 10, 2006, 5:08pm

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it is still weird.OH

Josh June 10, 2006, 5:12pm

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I'm 100% sure it means "of the".

Taylor Newsome Lover July 7, 2006, 1:04pm

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hi ...
im rakesh,, im learlning spoken english.. im seeking some help
can v ask someone like this-- "what 'O' clock u will be here?"

which is correct?
1) what 'O' clock u will be there?
2) what time u will be there?

syamji January 6, 2007, 3:01pm

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Rakesh, you say "What time will you be there".

It's a nice thing you learn spoken English, but if I were "u" I would focus on those courses on written English as well...

jge January 7, 2007, 3:19pm

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Just to add one more though, my research digging came up with of the clock and was used in the military when referring to where an enemy was, i.e. the enemy is at 1 o'clock or 1 of the clock. That's what I know, for what it's worth.

maj January 8, 2007, 2:43pm

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Look at "of the" as "according to," and it all makes sense . . .

Xiphos May 30, 2007, 12:35pm

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Whoever said that the O' in O'clock means anything other than "of the" is wrong. Claro.

AO May 30, 2007, 11:31pm

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AO, I'm probably missing something, but what do you mean by "Claro"? Um, something to do with light-colored cigars?

porsche May 31, 2007, 4:25am

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"Clearly" but in Spanish. Just a tick of mine..

AO May 31, 2007, 9:10pm

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Regarding names, O' does mean "of the"
Like, Jon O'Mally is Jon o(f the) Mally (family)
In time, it just became O'Mally. "o'clock".

Here's a spin off question though...

"A quarter past 9" means 9:15.
"A quarter to 9" means 8:45.

So, "a quarter of 9" means 9:15 or 9:45? me it sounds like 9:15...
..but the above commentors makes it sound as if
"to 9" and "of 9" are the same.

passing through November 25, 2007, 6:00pm

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I'm not sure about that the "O" in Irish names is a contraction of "of". I think it's actually from Irish Gaelic "Ó", meaning "grandson".

John November 27, 2007, 9:28am

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Hi, I found this website out of curiosity (I'm an English-Spanish translator & linguist, lover of all things related to languages) and so far I'm liking it! =)

Anyway, this is an interesting question, so I looked it up in the Online Etymology Dictionary website (, from which I quote:

c.1720, abbreviation of "of the clock", from M.E. "of the clokke" (1389). Attested from 1904 in ref. to direction (by shooters, fighter pilots, etc.).


Keep up the good work with your website! :D

mtto November 29, 2007, 9:10am

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O'clock means 'on clock'
n is removed by the sign of single inverted comma.

Anurag September 29, 2011, 12:09pm

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O'clock means 'on clock'
n is removed by the sign of single inverted comma.

Anurag September 29, 2011, 12:09pm

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first option will b wrong
as interrogative/relative pronoun contains noun/verb.
o'clock means on clock.
on is preposition,it cant be followed with which.

Anurag September 29, 2011, 12:27pm

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@anurag ... Have a cite? Your claim that it is "on clock" gainsays what is taught. I would think it would be "on the clock" if you want to brook "on" instead of "of". Then if someone says "It's a quarter of nine", it would make sense spread out to "It's a quarter of nine on the clock."

My guess is that both "of the clock" and "on the clock" were used.

@Brixen and Travis ... Saying "a quarter of" and "a quarter til" are both common in the South.

AnWulf September 30, 2011, 6:45am

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Enjoyed greatly the notion that "o'clock" is from the German. "acht Uhr" means "eight o'clock". Moved into English in stages, see the movie "Casablanca" with Humph and Lauren. Some elderly German emigrants heading for the USA are practising their English: he asks her "What watch is it?", she replies "Eight watch" and he looks surprised and says "Such watch?".
I don't think they found "o'clock" came too naturally.

Brus October 1, 2011, 4:11pm

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'My lord, I was born about three of the clock in the afternoon, with a white head and something a round belly.' - Falstaff in Henry IV Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2

Warsaw Will November 20, 2011, 11:23am

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Great thread. Of interest are the reports that the expression "o' clock" is fading after six centuries. Maybe it's because we don't use clocks or watches anymore. u just never know.

Canada Goose March 4, 2012, 2:33am

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Some interesting comments spanning almost seven years. The etymology of "o'clock" is intriguing but here's the reality: the "o'" in "o'clock" no longer really stands for anything in itself. The whole expression "o'clock" survives as an idiom and for indicating time.

Or maybe not. For, as "Canada Goose" notes, the expression does appear to be falling more and more out of use.

JJMBallantyne March 4, 2012, 12:07pm

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I'm American and I DO say "quarter of" instead of "quarter to". But, I'm from Philadelphia. Maybe it's an east cost thing.

ica July 2, 2012, 10:30am

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It's five o'clock in the morning:

AnWulf July 2, 2012, 2:30pm

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The editors of the online etymology dictionary (oed) obviously consulted (as did I) with the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), to whom I must defer in matters of my tortured tongue. This from my 1955 ed of the OUniversalD:
" 'O'clock' is short for of the clock; other variants were of clock, a clock (see A prep.2)"
At p. 326 under "clock" sb. 2.

Michael the Lawyer January 26, 2013, 11:36am

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I'm pretty sure I've come across the usage 'a quarter of three' in the essays of Addison and Steele in the Spectator from the early eighteenth century.

Skeeter Lewis January 26, 2013, 12:14pm

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it mean OUT OF THE MAP because you guys are so so so stupid

giovanna May 29, 2013, 1:58pm

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@Skeeter Lewis (belatedly) - Well remembered (nearly) - "Beaver has the Audience and Admiration of his Neighbours from Six 'till within a Quarter of Eight, at which time he is interrupted by the Students of the House" -

Searching for "a quarter of three" in Google Books brings up a few results, for example:

"At a quarter of three the expected party arrived" - History of Berkshire County, Massachusets

"It might want about a quarter of three o'clock when we got there" - Political Register 1768

"Il est trois heures moins un quart, it wants a quarter of three" - Boyer's French Dictionary 1839 - so a quarter of three definitely means a quarter to three.

The use of o'clock may have declined a lot in the twentieth century, but it seems to be having a bit of a revival in this one:

Warsaw Will May 29, 2013, 5:48pm

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Why does no one say o'clock with times other than the whole number? Like 9:30 o'clock? Or 5:15 o'clock?

Budahast September 26, 2013, 3:27pm

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@Budahust - Why do we say 9.30pm, but not half past nine pm? Or five past ten and twenty to eleven, but six minutes past ten and twenty-one minutes to eleven? These are just some of life's little mysteries.

I would guess the serious answer to your question is - because the whole number without the minutes or quarters might have sounded a bit bare, and in any case it was a way of clearly differentiating it from the rest.

Warsaw Will September 26, 2013, 5:01pm

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Wow!!! I googled this looking for a short sweet answer n all of yal have taken this minute little o'clock to extremes beyond what normal people would definately think as necessary. Seems like some of you really need to get a hobby or something. The info is nice, but if you don't know the correct answer why put another topic on the plate of what was a simple question.

Cherochaun October 26, 2013, 5:43pm

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WW: I do hear things like "six past ten" and "twenty-one to eleven" on the radio here in NZ.
I think how we talk about time varies a lot between the different forms of English.
For instance, "half nine" (for 9:30) is very common in the UK, rather less common in NZ, and I'm guessing almost unheard of in America. (In German and Dutch, "half nine", or its equivalent, means 8:30!)

Cherochaun: when I first read your comment I thought your "minute" was the thing there are 60 of between one o'clock and two o'clock, but it appears you mean the other kind of minute.
I think most of us do know the correct answer: it's short for "of the clock".

Chris B October 26, 2013, 8:49pm

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@Chris B - interesting. New Zealand seems to have quite a few little idiosyncrasies, some of which Hairy Scot has pointed out. Radio announcers also have their language, things like 'on the hour' , 'the news at this hour' etc. And you can add Polish to your list of 'half before' languages.

Vaguely connected - Brits use hundreds between 1000 and 2000, but thousands after that - fifteen hundred, but two thousand five hundred. I've noticed, however, that Americans don't seem to stop at 2000, and will say things like thirty-five hundred where we would say three thousand five hundred.

@Cherochaun - in case you hadn't noticed, some of us already have a hobby - chatting about English. In any conversation among interested people, the subject tends to wander a bit, and these threads are no different. I certainly don't come here to discover 'what is necessary', but what is interesting, for example what Chris B has said about NZ usage or what Skeeter Lewis said about 'a quarter of three'.

For some of us, I would suggest that the questions are merely the frames for the discussion, and very often the off-topic bits are the most interesting. I've learnt a lot since I started visiting this site, but probably more from these asides than from the actual answers. And if the answer is all you wanted, you didn't have to look far - Dave answered it in the first comment.


Warsaw Will October 27, 2013, 5:50am

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LOL im a bit late posting here all i wanted to double check where the term came from as i like to know random facts lol.
I'm fully English with generations of English behind me and i have always used o'clock and I don't think its dying at all, all my kids and their mates etc use it its very common here still but when abbreviating anything it will often get missed but for example i list a few things that i or all others i know could say when talking about time.

What's the time?

Twenty five to nine.

Oh, when's the film starting?


A. So if it's starting at ten o'clock why ain't we leaving 'till half nine? But if we leave at quarter past we'll make it in better time to get food etc.

B. Ok mate we'll do that then we'll probably be back by about Two a.m to be fair.

A. Yeah then bed by three, and up again at 10 in the morning as i have a one p.m meeting.

B. Fair dues well we'll relax for a bit then get ready at five past.

A. Yeah sounds good.

That would be a normal conversation in person but uses multiple different forms. Obviously the term o'clock isn't used much when texting as we all know that everything is abbrieviated in text messaging eg
If i tld u wot time it was it b bout 6pm giv or take a few mins but in 15 itl be bout 615

Either way i just say what ever seems right at the time place and even who you are speaking to whether formal or in formal.
That aside i do listen and watch an awful lot of American produced music and movies and i have never heard the term 'a quarter of' most of the time all i hear is quarter to but the difference i have picked up on is that they often say both numbers more often then reference to minutes past as a metric value like quarter to or past and half,
e.g at 10:30am A typical common english person would say
"Its half ten" Where as an American would say "it's ten thirty".
I am not saying that ALL American and ALL English say it exactly like that as i know both in America and the UK the local language differs extremely, even people that live a few miles further from London (My area) have completely different slang words and terms that they commonly use but i am going by what i here most.

Back on subject the term 'of the' sounds right but i wouldn't say that the term "on the" is wrong either, as that is still used when people say things like on the dot and on time. And there were massive differences in older english times speaking capabilities and languages used as there was such a separation in class from hard working low paid peasants to stuck up lordy lazy royals and other wealthy families.

But the comment about the Irish term O' meaning son of isn't only Irish it was also Scottish along with surnames with the word "son" on the end or even the word "kin" But that has nothing to do with time telling.

A lot of interesting references to other languages seems right too as the way we all speak has been changing and adapting for thousands of years and every area in every City, County, State and country etc all have their own twist on it

Thank you all who posted it was interesting lol

Rich13 January 12, 2015, 1:31pm

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Yes     No