I have just a question since I know that people use the phrase: 1 or 2 or N hours ago approximately but I want to know how big the approximation usually is.

For me, I was using the phrase 1 hour ago meaning that let's say it is 8:40. It would not matter for me how many minutes it is whether it is 40,15 or 59 minutes. For me, only thing that would be important is 8th hour. So if I wanted to say that I came to this shop at 7:00 or 7:15 or 7:30 whatever and current time is 8:40, I would still say: I came to the shop an hour ago by which I mean that I came there any minute of previous hour. So I would mean by that anytime between 7:00 until 7:59.

Is this the correct understanding and approximation that is most commonly used? Because I do not know anyone who would in casual speach use exactly 60 minutes ago when saying an hour ago. Same with days, when I say 2 days ago, I do not mean 48hours ago, but instead before two calendar days.

So my question is. Is it used the same way with hours? If no, then how is it used?

I give you two examples.

  1. I came to the shop at 4:50 now it is 6:15

What would you say? I came to the shop 1 hour ago OR 2 hours ago ?

  1. You purchased something at 5:00 now it is 6:40.

Would you say: I purchased it 1 OR 2 hours ago? (in my opinion 1 hour and 40 minutes ago is too long + a bit weird to me to say it like that.)

Thanks for help!

2 Answers 2


The context tells you whether or not N hours ago is precise. I would say that, typically, it is not. To be clear, you could add about to the expression:

about N hours ago.

Otherwise, the context will help you determine that it is precise, or you might add exactly to the expression:

exactly N hours ago.

I don't think your usage of N hours ago is correct. For example, if it's 8:40, and you say something with one hour ago, then I don't think it is perceived as anything between 7:00 and 7:59. Instead, it is understood as 7:40 plus or minus a few minutes. In other words, the approximate interval is centered around 7:40 and it is not the interval 7:00 to 7:59.

As for your particular examples, I don't think there's a rule. You are just going to have to choose what feels best.

If you really want to use some rule, you could round to the closest hour. So if something happened 1 hour and 20 minutes ago, you would round down to 1 hour and say X happened 1 hour ago. So for your first example, you could say 1 hour ago, and for the second, you could say 2 hours ago.

Including something like about, close to, almost, etc also sounds natural. Using your numbered examples:

  1. I got here about an hour ago.
  2. I bought this almost two hours ago.

To answer your general question, when saying "an hour ago" it's an hour from this moment. If I got to a shop at 5:50 and it's 6:10 now, I'd never say "I got here an hour ago".

Your other question is more about how precise a person is expected to be. It's a very loose approximation, so if in your first example I'd say "I got here an hour ago" or "I got here an hour and a half ago" since 1:25 minutes had passed. In the second example I'd probably round up to 2 hours.

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