Is it okay to say "15 minutes of four" in English meaning "3:45"? Or would it mean "4:15"? Or is it totally incorrect to say that?

(I heard once a native speaker said that, but I am not sure if that was him just playing with words or that was an acceptable way of saying the time in English)

  • 2
    I've never heard anybody say that, usually it's a quarter past four or a quarter to four. – SovereignSun Nov 28 '16 at 7:58
  • It can also be “fifteen minutes until four” or “fifteen minutes before four”. – J.R. Nov 28 '16 at 9:57
  • In my section of the country, the word minutes is typically not present with of, though it is present with to. What time is it? -- It's ten of eight. or It's a quarter of eight or It's ten minutes to eight. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Nov 28 '16 at 11:21
  • I was about to answer with "No, you can't say that" until I saw others say otherwise! :D So it's worth noting that that phrasing is an Americanism — if you said "15 minutes of four" to me in the UK/Ireland, I'd presume it was because you learned the phrase wrong (or, if you mumbled, I might think you were saying "15 minutes after 4" quickly or something). – anotherdave Mar 23 '20 at 15:14

If you check the entry for of on Wordnik, you’ll find:

Before; until: five minutes of two.

Therefore, I’d regard the phrasing you ask about to be grammatical. However, I don’t generally hear that wording used with the fraction quarter. As said in the comments, phrases like:

  • quarter to four
  • fifteen minutes before four

are more common.

As for whether this person was using that phrasing to be humorous, you’d have to ask your friend. It might be colloquial.

  • I can't see that text if I follow your link. – user133831 Apr 6 '20 at 15:23
  • @user133831 - The link works fine for me. In any case, OneLook is just an online dictionary, and the page lists several meanings for the word of. Also, I've copied the one most relevant to this question. – J.R. Apr 7 '20 at 17:44
  • Weird - it must display different content to different people for some reason. I get the entry for "of" but not with that usage. I'm a native speaker and have lived in multiple English speaking countries and not only haven't heard the expression I wouldn't be sure what was meant if I did. I assume it is dialectical and would be interested in seeing its spread but I can't actually find any usage - hence being curious about the dictionary entry to see where it is used. The closest I could think of would be something like "5 of the 10 minutes remaining" but that's not quite the same thing. – user133831 Apr 7 '20 at 20:09

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