AM and PM: Time and Grammar


Let’s talk time. Into every writer’s life, time notation must come. And according to grammar purists, there a few points to consider—literally.

  • Dots or no dots? The answer here is yes. If you use AM or PM, you do not need periods. If you use p.m. or a.m., you do. Take your pick—unless your editor prefers one in particular.
  • What to do with noon and midnight? Technically, you could write 12:00 PM or 12:00 AM, but some will quibble with you. (They’ll send you nasty emails—you know who you are—about why those times can’t possibly exist.) Avoid the issue by using 12:00 noon or just noon and 12:00 midnight or just midnight.
  • How to write out times? There’s no strict rule on this, but I recommend going with longhand on times just to make sure there’s no confusion. Write out “three o’clock” or “3:00.”
  • What about years? Because of the history of the Western calendar, writing out years can be—well—odd. For most of us, the correct method is to use BC after the date and AD before (12 BC and AD 1066)—or nothing at all for most AD dates. There’s also the lesser used BCE and CE, both of which go after the date (12 BCE and 1066 CE). Note that there are no periods in any of those (pretend like you didn’t see the Wikipedia entry on this). Also, some style guides prefer that you use small caps, but this is cumbersome on the Internet, which is why you rarely see it that way.
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10 Responses to AM and PM: Time and Grammar

  1. Tony McWilliams says:

    “This entry was posted on Monday, June 15th, 2009 at 12:00 am and is filed under grammar tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.”

    Oh, the irony….

  2. John says:

    There seems to be much confusion but what should be remembered is to be consistent. In speech always write the time out. e.g. ‘She left at a quarter to seven in the evening.’ Said Martha. Or ‘Martha says it was six forty-five in the evening.’ In narratives, there is more confusion for example. 6:25 p.m. or 6:25pm / 6.25 pm / 6.25pm or a common one 6:25 P.M. All these are used by novelists, journalists and article writers. It seems to spring from a cross-over from American English to British English or other variables. Whichever system is used stick with one way and be consistent.

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