Using “o’clock” When Stating a Time of Day

Here’s an amusingly pointless usage: including o’clock when you state a time of day in a contract, as in before 4:00 o’clock p.m. on the Borrowing Date. Adding o’clock accomplishes nothing.

It occurs in 109 “material contracts” filed on the SEC’s EDGAR system in the past year—not often enough to say that it’s a standard usage, but often enough to take time out to laugh at it.

To make it even sillier, use it when stating a time that isn’t on the hour: 11:59 o’clock p.m. Even in speech where o’clock has a place, you use it only when the minute hand point to twelve.

You could also go for a pointless literary look by using words rather than digits for the hour: eleven o’clock a.m.

And how about this doozy, which includes the words-and-digits thing: on or before Two O’clock (2:00) p.m. Eastern Time (“ET”). Thank you, Empire Sports Entertainment Holdings Co.!

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

9 thoughts on “Using “o’clock” When Stating a Time of Day”

  1. You walked right up to the precipice and turned around, Ken.  I was hoping you were going to touch on one of my personal contract pet peeves.  But you didn’t.

    When you want to use a timezone in a contract, use only the two-letter code, and leave out whether it’s “Standard”, “Daylight”, etc.  In other words, keep it to ET, CT, MT, PT (for the US).  This means I/we don’t have to calculate whether daylight savings time is in effect.

    I don’t know if there’s ever been a performance question that’s made it to any form of adjudication on the issue.  But I’ve seen it cause concern for performance.

    Keep it simple.  :)

  2. No doubt this practice dates back to the time when drafters of contracts charged by the number of words in their docs.  

  3. Is that Eastern Standard Time (“EST”), Eastern Daylight Time (“EDT”), or Eastern Standard Time or Eastern Daylight Time (whichever is in effect on the date in question, “ET”)? And what if one party is in a state or county that observes EDT and the other observes only EST (as some Indiana counties used to do, and for all I know still might)? 

  4. If one wants to be really pedantic, one could also note the incorrect use of the colon followed by “a.m.” or “p.m.”. It should either be “4.00 p.m.” or “16:00”. (The former seems much better to me for a legal contract, as it is more unambiguously a time reference and a more standard usage.)

    Incidentally, we also use time in a location (London time, New York time etc.) to avoid any daylight saving issues.

    • W: I don’t accept that use of the colon is incorrect; it’s endorsed by the Chicago Manual of Style 15.44. This might be another of those US/UK distinctions. What do UK style guides have to say? Ken

      • That must be the case – I’m very sure it isn’t seen over here, though I don’t have my style guide to hand. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a US usage of it either – it looks very unfamiliar – but it’s more than possible I haven’t been paying attention. 

        I’ll let them off on this occasion…


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