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I was reading a book and this sentence seemed a little odd to me:

At approximately 19.45 hours the two men rose, stretched and yawned. They picked up their gear and stood at the door, ...

What does the first part mean? If it's the exact time, shouldn't it be 19:45? And if it's duration, shouldn't it be "After 19.45 hours"?

(The story here happens at an airbase, if it's of any relevance)


Edit: The book I've quoted is this:

The Sirius Crossing by John Creed.

The author is Irish and the text is set in northern England/Ireland.

  • 1
    You mean "After 19.75 hours" ;-) – Stephan Bijzitter Dec 12 '16 at 10:36
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    @StephanBijzitter it's the writer's fault that he's using decimal in time! :/ – Mahm00d Dec 12 '16 at 10:42
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    Nah, stackexchange.com is not a number even though it contains a ., so one could say 19.45 is not a number either. – Stephan Bijzitter Dec 12 '16 at 10:53
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    Most answers are missing the point (heh) that the question is about : vs ., not "What is this crazy 24 hour time format?" – RJFalconer Dec 12 '16 at 15:57
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    In dutch (belgium) a dot is the standard notation in text, but not alot of people use it. So there might be a similar rule in the used English Locale. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locale_(computer_software). – dwana Dec 12 '16 at 16:24
65

It means the same as 19:45 or 7:45PM

There seems to be several elements in the original text that are confusing.

At approximately 19.45 hours...

The dot

The dot in the time notation is not a decimal point, as in "19 point 45", as in 45 hundredths of an hour. It's an alternative to the colon as the time separator and would be pronounced "nineteen forty five hours".

There are a variety of names for the "dot" symbol, but this one would be a "full stop" or a "period". Both terms are equivalent and are used in Commonwealth English and American English respectively.

Many languages use a dot as a separator between hours, minutes and seconds. In Germany, it was the standard notation up until 1996 and is still commonly seen.

The German standard DIN 5008, which specifies typographical rules for German texts written on typewriters, was updated in 1996-05. The old German numeric date notations DD.MM.YYYY and DD.MM.YY have been replaced by the ISO date notations YYYY-MM-DD and YY-MM-DD. Similarly, the old German time notations hh.mm and hh.mm.ss have been replaced by the ISO notations hh:mm and hh:mm:ss. Those new notations are now also mentioned in the latest edition of the Duden. The German alphanumeric date notation continues to be for example “3. August 1994” or “3. Aug. 1994”.

It is also popular in the United Kingdom. For example, The Guardian's recommended style guide has this (emphasis mine):

1am, 6.30pm, etc; 10 o’clock last night but 10pm yesterday; half past two, a quarter to three, 10 to 11, etc; 2hr 5min 6sec, etc; for 24-hour clock, 00.47, 23.59; noon, midnight (not 12 noon, 12 midnight or 12am, 12pm).

A quick look at this list of time notations by language reveals that the following are officially using a dot as the separator:

Since the dot serves the same purpose as a colon, the time is meant to be 7 hours after noon (midday), plus 45 minutes.

The "19"

Some cultures do not commonly use the 24-hour clock and a number higher than 12 in a time might be unusual. The 24-hour clock is the most common system in the world today and counts the number of hours passed since midnight, from 0 to 23. It is also called "military time" in the United States.

Therefore, "19" means "19 hours after midnight".

The "hours"

The redundant mention of "hours" after the numbers seems to be common in military settings. This answer on the pronunciation of time in 24-hour notation says that it is ingrained in the mind of soldiers. The Art of Manliness, an American website, also says this:

[As for] whether you should say “hours” after giving the time, that somewhat varies by what branch of the military you’re dealing with. If Soldiers and Airmen are saying 2:00pm, they’re a little more likely to give it to you as “fourteen hundred hours,” while Marines or Coast Guardsman [sic] are a little more likely to render it [as] just “fourteen hundred.” Across the branches though, it’s typical to drop the “hours” bit when you’re talking face-to-face and your meaning is obvious, only adding it in conversation and written communication that’s more formal and where you want to make sure the message is clear.

It would appear that the author wanted to add some military slang since the story happened at an airbase.

At approximately

The phrase "at approximately 19.45" seems unusual for some people who would rather see "about", "roughly" or "around". However, "approximately" reinforces the formality of the sentence, as it is something you might find in reports, legal settings or scientific documents. It sounds much more technical than "around" and again fits with a military setting.

Addendum: Locales

Time and date notations are notoriously difficult to get right. The sum of all the culture-specific quirks (also including number formatting, sorting, case conversions, etc.) is called a locale in computer science. There are as many locales as there are countries and languages. In fact, the "same" language in different countries might have different notations.

For example, in Canada, English and French are the two official languages and have different date notations (dd/mm/yy and yyyy-mm-dd respectively). Canadian English and British English also have different time notations (12-hour clock and 24-hour clock respectively).

In addition to official notations, there are also popular notations that are either:

  • historical, because the standard was officially changed in a particular region of the world by its government; or
  • a result of outside influences, because another country close by is using a different notation.

In this case, the dot is not the official notation in either Ireland or the United Kingdom. It is, however, a popular notation in the UK.

  • 4
    It was a good answer when first posted, and now (having been edited to explain things such as "hours" more clearly) it's even better. – David K Dec 12 '16 at 18:55
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    Really great answer explaining different segments. Specially the part about the format being used in UK cleared it up. Thanks. – Mahm00d Dec 12 '16 at 19:07
  • Since this is an ELL site, I should point out that the Art of Manliness quote is grammatically incorrect. Acceptable expressions are "As far as … goes," or "As for …,". In this case, it should probably say As for whether you should say "hours" after giving the time, … – 200_success Dec 13 '16 at 17:59
  • I don't think there is a convention. Your answer is generally fine. – 200_success Dec 13 '16 at 20:30
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    Just for the record (as it's fairly tangential to the answer), no one actually uses the ISO date format Y-M-D in Germany. Everyone still uses D.M.Y, whereas it's correct that people have almost ubiquitously switched to H:M instead of H.M. – Martin Ender Dec 14 '16 at 8:42
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The time being used here is military time - a means of telling the time based on a 24 hour clock, and is used to avoid confusion between a.m. and p.m. hours. The military also add a time zone indicator (A-Z) to denote the correct time zone.

"Nineteen forty-five" hours means 7:45 p.m., or quarter to eight in the evening, in common parlance.

It's often used in movies and literature to enforce the point that a character is from a military background, or the story takes place in a military setting.

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    @Mahm00d This is a location and style-manual issue. In the US, a colon would always be used, but in the UK a full-stop/period is sometimes used. According to Wikipedia, a colon is more common for 24-hour format in England, but not mandatory; it looks like maybe the single-dot is always used in Wales. And I imagine that there could be other places in the world where the 24-hour, single-dot notation is commonly used. Wikipedia article here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – 1006a Dec 12 '16 at 7:46
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    I think this answer has a very strong US bias. For me, this isn't "military time", it's just "the time". It has nothing to do with a military setting. – isanae Dec 12 '16 at 8:20
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    @isanae: I partially agree. Although 24h time is used in many (most?) places in the world, I wouldn't expect anyone to use a term like "[a]t approximately 19.45 hours" in normal conversation (written or oral). You would either say "at 19:45" or "at about a quarter to eight (in the evening)." In addition, the context (airbase) here makes a military usage likely. – Dubu Dec 12 '16 at 10:18
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    To a point, I agree - 24 hour clock is common in my home country. However what differentiates it slightly for me is syntax - the military or emergency services use a very specific syntax to denote time <hour><minute>h or <hour><minute> hours for clarity. Zulu time (with offset) might be used to provide even more clarity. As a civilian (and as a person who uses 24h format regularly myself), I might arrange to meet my friends at seventeen forty-five, but I can't ever imagine arranging to meet a friend at nineteen-hundred hours, or worse still, oh-eight-hundred hours. – mike Dec 12 '16 at 10:30
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    @isanae: Associating the 24-hour clock with the military isn’t just a US thing. In the UK (where I grew up), the 24-hour clock is not unknown in colloquial use, but it’s much less common than the 12-hour clock, whereas 24-hour is absolutely the standard in military use (I’m told). The wording points that @ mike mentions also fit my UK experience. In Sweden (where I live now), 24-hour and 12-hour times seem about equally common in everyday use, but again, the military use entirely the 24-hour clock, so even here, there’s some association between 24-hour time and the military. – PLL Dec 12 '16 at 12:18
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Considering the context, I would say that 19.45 hours refers to 7:45 PM, because the sentence states that something happened at that time. I have to say though that the use of a decimal point as a separator for the hour and minute portions is nonstandard (as far as ISO 8601, a document that is considered a standard for representing dates and times, is concerned), and thus the source of your confusion.

However, a more definitive answer would require more of the material that precedes and follows the quoted section.

Ref: The 24-hour clock (Wikipedia)

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    "the use of a decimal point [..] is nonstandard". It might be nonstandard where you live, but it's certainly standard elsewhere. – isanae Dec 12 '16 at 9:15
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    Quoting the Wikipedia page I linked through to in my answer: "In the past, some European countries used the dot on the line as a separator, but most national standards on time notation have since then been changed to the international standard colon." – LiveMynd Dec 12 '16 at 9:27
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    There is a standard that exists (ISO 8601), but it's not the only one, and it's not used by all countries. – isanae Dec 12 '16 at 9:29
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    Granted. I'll edit my answer. – LiveMynd Dec 12 '16 at 10:39
  • I added the book's name and country to my question. Maybe it'll help. – Mahm00d Dec 12 '16 at 10:53
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If the writer means "at", then it's "at", not "after".

Though at implies a certain point in time, the time doesn't have to be "exact". In this case, the writer may not want to or may not be able to locate an exact point in time, but it's around 19:45 (or nineteen-forty-five (hours) in military speak). Rephrasing it with after would change the meaning.

Because I corrected an error senshin caught in my answer, I have a chance to add something I thought but didn't say the first time I wrote this answer (I must admit I overlooked this minor point because I assumed that the original poster knew this):

"At approximately 19.45 hours the two men rose, stretched and yawned." in a military setting (which is the case in this novel) should not be ambiguous to an average reader at all. It's true that "19.45 hours" might mean 19 hours and 45 minutes long, or maybe 19 hours and 27 minutes (45/100 of one hour) long elsewhere. (See the ambiguity if we try to read it as a duration?) But it doesn't make sense to try to read it so in a military context, because in this register, clarity is of highly important. So, even to an average reader who might not be familiar with this "19.45 hours" notation, it's only reasonable to read this as 19:45 (or 7:45 p.m.).

  • Would a military person say "nineteen forty-five hundreds" for "19:45"? I would've expected "nineteen hundred forty-five [hours]". – senshin Dec 14 '16 at 4:03
  • Ah, you're right! It was a typo (brain burp, actually). Thanks for the catch! – Damkerng T. Dec 14 '16 at 5:13
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19.45 hours is just the formal British/Commonwealth way of saying the time was 1945 or 07:45pm. Pronounced "Nineteen Forty-Five Hours", it's usually used in police reports, military accounts and legal representations; anything where a more formal way of speaking is considered the norm (normal). I don't think this way of speaking was ever prevalent in America but in Britain it represents, at least in some sense, the slightly more hierarchical way of addressing people. I would never say to a friend let's meet at 19.45 hours but I would say it in the Army. I have the impression it would just be the same in the US.

2

In written German, time is expressed practically exclusively in the 24-hour notation (00:00–23:59), using either a colon or a dot on the line as the separators between hours, minutes and seconds.

Example: 19:45 or 19.45. The standard separator in Germany was the dot (DIN 1355, DIN 5008) until 1995, when the standards changed it to be the colon, in the interest of compatibility with ISO 8601.

You can also visit the following link to find more about this topic.

Date & Time Notation In Germany

  • This is interesting, but I'm unsure why the German convention is relevant here. The question is about English, the author is Irish, and the book is set in Northern England. – ColleenV parted ways Dec 13 '16 at 18:00
  • well the above convention is used in the whole of the Europe - according to wikipedia text – Pankaj Gautam Dec 14 '16 at 6:57
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Put simply, that would be 19 hours and 45 minutes into the day. The day starting at 00:00 and 12:00 being noon, or midday.

  • While it is important that questions be answered, generally your answer should contain more detail, and should explain why something is the way it is. Your answer also doesn't address the "approximately" part of the quote in the question, which is important for answering it. – LMS Dec 12 '16 at 17:16
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In this case, the time that's given almost certainly indicates the time at which the described actions began.

That is, they stood up at about 19.45 (7:45 PM, if you prefer) and the rest of the action followed, so it might have been, say, 19.50 by the time they were actually standing at the door.

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19:45 is equal with 7:45 PM

that 24 hour system is used in most asian country, e.g indonesia

tip : to know whats your time if it comes to 13:00 , 14:00 and etc, try to do this, your expected time - 12:00 = your time in PM

help me to correct if im wrong, thanks

  • Welcome to ELL SE! The OP is not confused about the 12 hour / 24 hour system, just the notation. So your post doesn't really help to solve the question. – Glorfindel Dec 14 '16 at 10:04

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