Let's say John is in the jungle at night without a clock. He stops to think of all the things he did since he last knew the time and comes to the conclusion that it's approximately 3:00 o' clock a.m.

Are the following phrases correct? (I could find almost no hits on google)

He estimated the time to be 3:00.

He reckoned the time at 3:00.

He guessed the time was 3:00.

If not, how would you write it correctly?

  • To say: ...reckoned the time at 3.00 means that at three o-clock he estimated the time. But guessed and estimated are more suitable verbs in this context.. Jul 4, 2018 at 10:08

3 Answers 3


All three are correct: however, in everyday English, to indicate that there is some uncertainty about the exact time, we would normally place 'about' before the time. e.g.

He estimated the time to be about 3:00.

He reckoned the time at about 3:00.

He guessed the time was about 3:00.

In informal speech 'about' may be replaced with 'round about' or 'around about'. Adding the extra word before 'about' does not change the meaning in any way, and its use is not advised in formal speech.

Of the three sentences in your question, the least credible is:

He guessed the time was about 3:00.

"To guess" means to provide an answer or opinion about something when you do not have sufficient information on which to base your answer. You may guess right, but you are even more likely to guess wrong.

"To estimate" and "to reckon" both imply that the person has put some work into arriving at an answer, and that they have made use of whatever information was available to assist them. "To reckon" is probably the more credible term of the two as it implies that the available data was included in some form of computation or calculation in order to arrive at an answer.

  • Thanks. I think your answer is the best, though I'm still a bit confused by what Kazuki and Ronald Sole wrote, which contradicts it.
    – Fra
    Jul 4, 2018 at 10:30
  • @Francesco One of the problems with English grammar, and possibly that of other languages, is that grammar is an art, not a science. Sometimes precise answers are not possible, and different people will give different answer. I agree with Kaxuki that 'was' is a better choice than 'at'. but I do not think that 'at' is absolutely wrong. I also agree with Ronald that using 'at' in the second sentence may be interpreted by some as being the time when he did the reckoning, but this may not be the answer he came up with. This is often the case with a single sentence, but the problem is usually
    – James
    Jul 4, 2018 at 10:46
  • 1
    resolved when there are other sentences to put that single sentence into context. When checking through the internet I found two or three other examples of 'reckon...at", and I have also heard others using similar expressions. So, I personally do not object to your sentence, but I agree that using 'was' or 'to be' instead of 'at' might be a better choice.
    – James
    Jul 4, 2018 at 10:54

Whilst the first and last are correct and do make sense, the middle one's use of "at" is incorrect.

He reckoned the time at 3:00

Since you are using the past tense in "reckoned" this means that "at" would become "was". To make it sound a bit more natural you could say

"He reckoned it was around 3:00 o'clock" Or "He reckoned the time was around 3:00"

Hope this helps :)

  • I wrote the example with 'reckon at' because I find it in Collins dictionary. (see the example, 'A proportion of the research, which I reckoned at about 30 percent, was basic research'). So I thought I might apply the form in this case too.
    – Fra
    Jul 4, 2018 at 10:11

(Native American English speaker)

I would contradict the answers put forth by @James, which perhaps take on a slightly more British English response, and suggest that the phrase:

He guessed the time was about 3:00

is the most natural in the context of spoken (American) English and that the addition of the word "about" does, in fact, change the implied meaning. Whereas to guess, reckon, or estimate indicates how the person reached their current beliefs, the addition of "about" indicates the degree of confidence its precision or accuracy. Omitting it would imply that, although guessed, John is very confident in the precision othe value.

Among the three verbs, American English would most likely use "guessed" in a narrative or spoken setting and "estimated" in a more technical context. The verb "reckon" is rarely used and can be considered semi-archaic or a (Southern American English) colloquialism.

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